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A. D., 1881. 



This is not a scientific treatise on sewer-gas, 
nor does it undertake to impart technical informa- 
tion on plumbing and the construction of house 
drains. It is the result of investigations made 
by an impartial inquirer in this city for the pur- 
pose of ascertaining to what extent that bane of 
city life, sewer-gas, is responsible for sickness and 
discomfort. An inquiry into the effects of the 
poisonous gas in a single instance in the month 
of July, 1879, suggested a possibility of similar 
results in other houses than the one examined. 
Investigations from that time were systematically 
pursued, and the astonishing prevalence of sewer- 
gas poisoning, and consequent illness and death 
in every part of the city, among all classes and 
in houses of the best as well as the poorest con- 
struction, gradually developed. These continued 
through the remainder of the Summer and Fall 
of that year, and were again taken up and pur- 
sued during the Winter just passed. Faithful 



records of the sorrow and suffering encountered, 
so far as they were the result of sewer-gas poison- 
ing, were kept. The presence of the invisible 
and insidious enemy in the houses of those af- 
flicted was found to be seldom realized. It was 
natural that inquiries should be made as to the 
means which sewer-gas had of entering a house, 
and whether it might not be shut out, or induced 
to go into the open air. Defects in house drains 
were noted as they were found, and means for 
remedying defects were sought out. In the search 
a system of drainage was discovered which seemed 
to promise relief. All these facts are presented 
in as plain and comprehensive a manner as pos- 
sible, that those most in need of the benefits to 
be derived from their presentation may readily 
understand the subject. If there has been any 
doubt that sewer-gas is a dangerous enemy to 
health and happiness, it must be dispelled by the 
stern facts presented in this book. To breathe 
sewer-gas, much or little, in his own house or 
office, day after day, is a risk which no man can 
afford to take for himself or his family. It is to 
emphasize this point that so many cases of actual, 
deadly poisoning by sewer-gas are given. If they 


do not convince they certainly must set people 
to thinking and investigating, the result of which 
will inevitably be better house drainage and better 

Thanks are due to Mr. W. F. Storey for per- 
mission to use much of this matter, which, in 
another form, has appeared in The Times in daily 
reports made by the writer during the past two 
years ; to Dr. Oscar C. DeWolf, Commissioner 
of Health, for encouragement and advice in this 
work ; to Prof. Walter S. Haines, of Rush Medical 
College, and to others who have furnished in- 
formation relating to the subject in hand. 

G. P. B. 

Chicago, March 31, 1881. 



I.— A City's Curse, - - - - 15 

II. — An Apparent Cause of Diphtheria, - 31 

III.— The Poor Man's Afflictions, - - 52 

IV. — The Pest in Marble Fronts, - - 69 

V. — Cumulative Evidence, - - - - 98 

VI. — The Voice of Experience, - - 118 

VII— The Chemistry and Potency of Sewer-Gas, 134 

VIII. — The Delusion of Disinfection, - - 150 

IX. — Defects in House Drainage, - - - 158 

X. — Where the Blame Belongs, - - 193 

XI. — How to Find and Remedy Defects, - 204 

XII. — A Perfect System of House Drainage, 220 



I.— House Drainage as it Is, - 11 

II. — House Drainage as it Should Be, - 13 

III. — Untrapped Waste-Pipe, - - 37 

IV. — Simplicity and Sewer-Gas, - - 71 

V.— A Running Trap, - - - - 77 

VI. — Inefficiency of Traps, 83 

VII. — Defectiye Connection, - - 91 

VIII. — A Leaking Drain, - 95 

IX. — Criminal Construction, - - - 107 

X. — Broken Joints, - - - - 131 

XI. — Putty Joints, - 159 

XII.— Broken Drains, .... 167 

XIII.— The Pan Closet, - - - - 171 

XIV. — Drain Sloping the Wrong Way, - 179 

^ XV.— The Bell Trap, - - - - 184 

XVI.— Syphoned Traps, 187 

XVII. — Imperfect Ventilation of Soil-Plpe, - 223 

XVIII. — Complete Ventilation of All Drains, 227 

XIX. — Iron Drain with Steam-Fitting Joints, 231 

XX. — Drainage Unobstructed by Traps, - 233 

XXI.— "Lead, Iron and Clay," - - -237 


A —Front Wall of Building. 

B.— Bath-Tub. 

C. — Catch-Basin. 

C-D. — Catch-Basin Drain. 

D. — Main Drain. 

E.— Street. 

F.— Floor. 

G.— Hand-Hole to Trap. 

H. — Stationary Wash-Basin. 

I. — Sidewalk. 

J.— Curb-Stone. 

K.— Kitchen Sink. 

L, — Ventilating Pipe for 

M.— Water Closet Bowl. 
N. — Water-Closet Container. 

O. — Soil-Pipe Extended to 

P. — Street Sewer. 
R— Roof. 
S.— Soil-Pipe. 
T.— " S " Trap. 
U. — Catch -Basin Ventilating 

V. — Ventilating Pipe for 

Main Drain, 
W.— Water-Closet. 
W-P.— Waste-Pipe. 
X. — Running Trap. 
Y.— Save-ABTray. 
Z. — Air-Inlet Pipe. 

Note. — The illustrations in this book represent exactly what was found in 
houses having the appearance externally of being desirable residences, some 
having been prepared from photographs. The author is indebted for a few of 
them, in part, to a most excellent work, entitled " Dangers to Health," by Dr. 
T. Pridgin Teale, of Leeds. England. They are given a place here because 
of the evidence they bear with them that defects in house drainage are 

Plate I. 

House Drainage as It Is. 

Plate II. 

House Dkainage as It Should Be. 




The greatest blessing of this life is good health ; 
the greatest misfortune, ill health. Without 
health, a man can not be happy, and hardly pros- 
perous ; with a diseased organism, he is his own 
greatest enemy, and a promoter of unhappiness in 
others. A man's health is largely in his own 
hands, subject to the air he breathes and the food 
he eats. Of course, men and women must die 
sooner or later, but the number who live their 
allotted years, and finally yield to the exhaustion 
of old age, is surprisingly small. Of the 803 per- 
sons who died in Chicago during the month of 
September, 1880 — a month selected at random 
from the records of the health department — only 
thirty-six had reached the age of seventy years. 
Of the entire number, 328 — more than forty per 
cent. — died of diseases which mi^ht have been 
prevented. Parents mourn the loss of children, 


and young and old the death of friends, and, some- 
how, can not get rid of the idea that there is a 
kind of fatality in death, or that a cruelly-kind 
Providence has cut short the life of this one or 
that one ' ' for the best. " Some people look upon 
sickness as a scourge for their sins, and others 
affect to believe that it is often " constitutional, ,, 
by which they are supposed to mean that incur- 
able afflictions are inherited, or fastened upon 
themselves in some other doubtful way ; while, in 
fact, they may have simply tainted their blood and 
devitalized the tissues of their bodies by breathing 
foul air, or taken food or drink which disorganizes 
rather than builds up the system. If it is alarm- 
ing that nearly half of the people of a great city 
die of diseases which might have been warded off, 
it is a more startling fact that 445, or more than 
half, of the 803 people who died in the month 
named above, in Chicago, were children under five 
years of age. 

There is a popular belief that physicians have 
the power to cure most, if not all, diseases, and 
when a man is taken sick, his first impulse is to 
send for a doctor. If he recovers, the physician 
is given credit ; if he dies, the friends say that it 
was due to improper medical treatment. If peo- 
ple would only learn, and then profit by the knowl- 
edge acquired, that it is better and easier to pre- 


vent disease and physical disorganization than to 
cure and reorganize after the affliction, life would 
be prolonged, and death made easy and natural. 
The physician might then dispense with his drugs, 
and devote himself to the preservation of health, 
instead of its restoration. 

A great many elements enter into the causes of 
preventable diseases. In a city there is apt to be 
tainted or adulterated food, especially for the 
poorer classes, who are compelled to live cheaply, 
and whose houses, too often, lack comfort and con- 
venience. In some cities there is apt to be poor 
water, which, happily, is not the case in Chicago. 
Filthy streets give off exhalations which are noth- 
ing less than the breath of disease. Improper 
ventilation of houses, and especially of sleeping- 
rooms, in which people breathe an atmosphere 
soon saturated with poison, is a more direct 
and potent cause of disease and diminished 
vitality than most people imagine. Finally, 
and most important of all, is the influence and 
effect of the poisonous air which escapes from 
sewers. There is reason to believe that in great 
cities like Chicago sewer air, or, as it is com- 
monly known, sewer-gas, is the source of more 
physical suffering, and the cause of more diseases, 
than any other one thing. If this is true, the con- 
tamination by sewer-gas of the air which people 
B l* 


breathe, is a calamity indeed, and that the state- 
ment is true there is no doubt. 

Wherever there are sewers, it is certain that 
there will be sewer-gas. If confined within the 
sewer, or permitted to escape into the open air, it 
can do no harm. In the first instance, it is im- 
prisoned and helpless ; in the second, it is robbed 
of its power by the oxygen of the atmosphere. 
It is only when it finds its way into houses, drives 
out pure air, and is unconsciously taken into the 
lungs, that it becomes the enemy of the human 
race. Sewer-gas is not often instantaneous in its 
effects, but it is none the less certain. It may be 
the source, or promoter, of all the so-called 
zymotic diseases. A zymotic disease is defined 
as "any epidemic, endemic, contagious, or spo- 
radic affection which is produced by some morbific 
influence acting on the system like a ferment." 
This technical definition is not so comprehensible as 
the plain statement that zymotic diseases include 
typhoid, typhus, scarlet, cerebro-spinal and mala- 
rial fevers, small-pox, measles, diarrhoea, dysentery, 
cholera, cholera morbus, cholera infantum, croup, 
diphtheria, whooping-cough, puerperal diseases, 
and some others. A prominent writer says : "If 
we look for the cause of the large mortality from 
zymotic diseases in our cities, we find it principally 
in sewer-gas poisoning. Other causes operate to 


swell the total, but to bad plumbing we may- 
attribute the prevalence of pythogenic pneumonia, 
peritonitis, inflammatory rheumatism, typhoid and 
malarial fevers, croup, diphtheria, and many kin- 
dred diseases, which are almost epidemic in all our 
large cities." 

Sewer-gas does not always kill. It poisons the 
blood of once healthy men and women, and de- 
stroys, or cripples, their capacity for business or 
enjoyment. It robs men of ambition, and women 
of beauty. It paves the way for specific diseases 
which would otherwise never have sent strong men 
to bed for months. There are those in this city 
whose lives were imperiled by it, but who fled 
from its presence ; years have passed and the 
poison has not yet been driven out of their veins. 

There is said to be a distinct, odorless and non- 
analyzable element which has been denominated 
sewer-gas, and which is as deadly in its effects as 
sulphureted hydrogen. If this is true, it is seldom 
met with. The term sewer-gas is more commonly 
and properly applied to the pent-up foul odor 
which may be found in any sewer or its connec- 
tions. It is easy to understand that this gas is 
laden or saturated with particles of decaying ani- 
mal, vegetable and excrementitious matter, which 
finds its way into the sewer. If this gas is breathed 
into the lungs, thus laden with poison, the blood 


must of necessity be contaminated. Further than 
this, the air which escapes from the sewer ma}' 
bear with it the germs of contagious diseases, and 
deposit them where least expected. It is possi- 
ble — it is probable — that the blood-poisoning 
resulting from the breathing of sewer - gas is due 
to chemical changes in organic matter which has 
been taken into the lungs. This may come from 
the sewer, catch - basins, drains, privy - vaults, or 
waste - pipes. Sewer - gas, or its equivalent, is 
generated in an out-door privy vault, but it comes 
so soon in contact with the surrounding atmos- 
phere, that it is rendered comparatively harmless. 
The air which escapes from sewers into houses is 
dangerous because it is not diluted, nor disinfected, 
by pure air, and because its confinement increases 
its potency. If all sewers were open at the top 
throughout their entire length, there might be no 
danger from the exhalations, except possibly from 
the germs of contagion which may have been 
carried into the sewers by water used in bathing 
the bodies of the sick. But this danger could 
not be so great as that which to a limited extent 
attends the breathing of the atmosphere which has 
swept through a sick room, and which many 
people do unavoidably and with apparent impunity 
breathe. In some cities of Europe, sewage is con- 
veyed away in open gutters, without serious dis- 


comfort or danger. In other cities there are open 
man - holes leading to the sewers, and the gases 
generated are allowed to pass off freely and with- 
out danger. Sewer -gas is to be feared when 
it insidiously and persistently finds entrance to 
houses, offices, or buildings of any description in 
which people live or work. There are some people 
who believe it can do no harm ; others know by 
sad experience that it is destructive of health and 
robs life of enjoyment, but they imagine that they 
are helpless against it. Again, there are many 
thousands suffering from its effects, and they are 
entirely ignorant of the fact. In mercy to this 
third class the warning note should be sounded, 
and for their especial benefit, as well as for those 
who know no remedy, the means for shutting 
sewer-gas out of houses, if there are any, ought to 
be made known in the fullest and widest possible 

No man would build his house over an open 
cesspool ; and yet, in a city where there are public 
sewers, houses are built over a hidden cesspool a 
thousand times more dangerous than one abo\e 
ground could be. Into it empty ten thousand 
drains, which in turn are connected by waste-pipes 
and soil-pipes with wash-basins, kitchen sinks, and 
water-closets. Into these are deposited the waste 
of human bodies and the liquid waste of kitchens, 


laundries, and lavatories. Through the waste- 
pipes of the house this liquid filth is conveyed 
directly to the street sewer, into which are also 
poured other liquid abominations, which often hold 
"in solution matter still more objectionable. Does 
any one need to be told that this must be the source 
of a gaseous exhalation, poisonous as well as foul ? 
The pipes which connect a house with the sewer 
may perforin their duty well enough as drains, but 
they are practically serviceable as ventilating shafts 
for the hidden cesspool, the sewer. A man may 
pity an unfortunate victim of small-pox, diphtheria, 
or contagious fever, but he would not consent to 
receive the one afflicted into his home at the risk 
of the lives of his own family ; but if there is 
danger from contagion by personal contact, there 
is also reason for alarm lest the germs, or specific 
poison, of disease drawn into the public sewer, and 
carried from one end of the city to another, may be 
borne into houses of distant neighborhoods through 
drains and waste-pipes on the wings of an invisible 
sewer - gas. Before and since the time of Martin 
Chuzzlewit men have undertaken to live in swamps 
and marshes in obedience to the demands of an 
apparent necessity. The swamp malaria prostrated 
the imaginary Chuzzlewit and his faithful compan- 
ion as it has many others similarly situated. The 
sewer cesspool is not essentially different from the 


swamp, but ordinarily that for which the former is 
responsible is slower in action, though oftener fatal 
or more lasting in its effects. 

There is nothing about which the people of a 
city seem to know so little as its sewerage. There 
is nothing relating to the comfort and healthy con- 
dition of a habitation with which any one of mature 
years should and might be more familiar. House 
drainage, an adjunct of sewerage, is next in impor- 
tance to the construction of the four walls of a 
house. It is the last thing which an occupant con- 
siders. If waste water " runs off, 11 he is satisfied. 
But it is not sufficient to know that the waste will 
be carried out of sight ; there should be no doubt 
that it reaches the sewer, and that there is no leak- 
ing or spilling along the way. There should be 
such appliances in and about the pipes as would 
prevent the return of sewer - gas to the rooms of a 
house, and this fact should be positively known. 
A gentleman who knows more about the effects of 
sewer-gas than the rules of grammar, wrote, 
recently, "Every precaution should be taken to 
keep it out, as we would a thief, and much more 
so, because he takes what we can replace, while 
sewer air robs us of that which nothing can re- 

It is an easy matter to shut sewer-gas out of a 
house, especially if some intelligent attention be 


given to the matter when the house is constructed. 
The trouble is, that houses are built over sewers, 
and connected with them with as much unconcern 
as though they were streams of pure water. Un- 
fortunately, sewers^ and house-drains are out of 
sight. A man may easily settle the question 
whether decaying garbage in or about his premises 
is responsible for obnoxious smells, but he can not 
of his own knowledge say that they come from a 
defective drain or sewer. He can learn something 
of the architecture and mechanical construction of 
a house by observation, and say that his shall be 
built thus and so, but he can not so readily learn 
how a house should be drained, even if the thought 
ever occurred to him that house-drainage consisted 
of anything further than getting waste matter out 
of sight. He has, possibly, heard something about 
traps in pipes and drains, but does not know where 
to look for them, and very likely would not know 
their use when found. A plumber's advice and 
services are paid for, but often to no good end. 
At the close of the year the occupant foots up his 
medical and funeral expenses, and wonders why 
fate has dealt so hardly with him. There is a 
repetition of these experiences during the following 
year ; at length the house is sold, or bartered 
away for another, which may prove to be a better 
or a worse habitation. 


The man who lives in rented houses has the ad- 
vantage of a privilege to change his residence once 
a year, but he is continually getting into houses 
that were built to make money out of, and not to 
live in. These are apt to be deficient in every- 
thing except outside appearance ; it is merely an 
incidental circumstance that somebody is to occupy 
them. There is no part of a house in which im- 
perfect work may so effectually escape detection 
as the drainage ; hence there is little good work in 
the construction of the drains. So long as the 
man who builds his own house does not know 
how sewage should be properly disposed of, it will 
have defective drainage, and he will be troubled 
by sewer-gas. So long as the tenant of a house 
is not as able, when he rents, to determine whether 
the drainage is properly constructed, as he is 
that the house itself is secure, commodious, and 
warm, those who have money to invest will con- 
tinue to construct houses better adapted to venti- 
lating the street sewers, than for occupation. A 
man might better put his family into a shed in 
which they would suffer from cold in Winter and 
heat in Summer, than into a marble-front mansion, 
the waste-pipe of whose kitchen sink is not se- 
curely trapped and ventilated ; better for a family 
to live on a house-top where poisonous gases are 
sure to be disinfected by pure air, than within the 


house, although it have all the conveniences which 
human ingenuity can devise, and yet have defec- 
tive drains beneath it. 

It is important that municipal authority should 
be exercised over the construction of house drains. 
A pretense is made of doing this in Chicago, but 
it is a hollow one. The supervision which many 
are led to believe is given is confined to a dingy 
office in the old rookery at the corner of Adams 
and La Salle streets, where so-called drain-layers 
and plumbers are licensed to ventilate street sewers 
into dwelling-houses and public-buildings. The 
city pays a number of "inspectors" to watch the 
construction of house drains, and report defects ; 
but their "inspection" goes no farther than to 
make a very "free hand" sketch of the plan of 
drainage prepared by the architect, or builder, 
which is filed away in a vault of the aforesaid 
rookery. The little that has been done in securing 
better house drainage must be credited to the 
Health Commissioner, Dr. DeWolf, whose special 
inspectors, charged with the duty of ferreting out 
the causes of preventable diseases, have found 
sewer-gas to be mainly responsible, and have, by 
their advice and directions, and sometimes by suits 
in court, secured the improvements necessary. 
This little is as "a drop in the bucket ; " it should 
be supplemented by the cooperation of the De- 


partment of Public Works, or, better still, the 
superintendence of the construction of house 
drains should be given to the Health Commis- 
sioner, and means placed at his disposal to cause 
all existing defective drains to be repaired. 

The construction of house drains is now left 
almost exclusively to drain-layers and plumbers, 
who are permitted to do work to suit themselves 
alone. When completed, the work is so effectu- 
ally concealed that no one could find out, if he 
desired to, whether it was well done or not. The 
result is, that competition has reduced the work to 
a sham, and those houses which do not have defec- 
tive drainage are an exception. The "worst of it 
is, that the people themselves, who must suffer in 
consequence, do not realize this, and are so slow 
to learn the facts that the penalty of death, even, 
has been, and must be, paid, over and over again, 
for the ignorance. 

All this finds confirmation in what Prof. C. A. 
Lindsley, of the Medical department of Yale Col- 
lege, has recently written. He says : ' ' By the 
commingling in the sewer of such immense quan- 
tities of matter in ever changing proportions and 
kinds, and in all stages of putrefaction, the sewer 
may be considered, in the language of the chemist, 
as a vast test tube of prodigious proportions, 
stretching its stupendous length beneath the sur- 


face of the highways and ramifying its branches 
into all our houses. The activities of the liquid 
tilth poured into it are not merely those of motion 
passing down a declivity, but they are activities of 
a widely different nature. Silently, persistently, 
yet energetically and inevitably, the laws of chem- 
ical action are set in operation, and among the pro- 
ducts of the changes resulting from the contact 
with each other of such various matters are the 
formation of noxious vapors, recognized under the 
general term of sewer-gas. Now as sewer-gas is 
lighter than common air it Aoays upward as natu- 
rally as water flows downwards. The immediate 
consequence is that the pipes leading from the 
several apartments of the house described become 
the conduits by which the sewer-gas is conducted 
directly into those apartments, and sewer -gas is 
filth — often in the most dangerous form. And so 
our fellow citizen has failed of doing what he pro- 
posed, but instead has really provided admission 
for a far more dangerous form of filth than he had 
before, viz., the gaseous products of sewage putre- 
faction. * * * Thus it is quite evident 
that the sewers constructed for public use to afford 
to our citizens the means of removing out of and 
away from their houses the filth of housekeeping, 
may ignorantly be so used that, while they do 


secure a prompt and convenient removal of such 
filth, they do also inject, as it were, into the very 
midst of our homes a form of filth more dangerous 
than that removed, and so subtle and intangible 
that its presence is not even detected, and yet often 
so laden with the germs of disease that diphtheria, 
scarlet fever, typhoid fever, and other fatal mala- 
dies are the sure event to those who dwell in such 
air-poisoned houses. 

' ' Does not consistency demand that the author- 
ities which have provided sewers to protect the 
people's health should also provide that said sewers 
shall not be a cause of danger to the people's 
health? And yet there is no law in Connecticut 
forbidding our fellow citizens to commit suicide, 
and take the lives of their families, or prohibiting 
landlords from jeopardizing the lives of their ten- 
ants through exposure to the fatal influence of the 
public sewers. 

" It is a reproach to the intelligence of the civ- 
ilization amidst which we live that some guard 
against this peril does not stand prominently upon 
the pages of our sanitary laws. If nothing be 
done by the authorized powers for the safety of 
those who are already in peril from their exposure 
to sewer - gases, surely it is a species of crime to 
permit property - owners through ignorance, or for 


any other reason, to go on unrestrainedly putting 
additional numbers of our fellow citizens in danger 
by any further connections of houses with the 
sewers without adopting the safeguards necessary 
for their protection." 




An essential element of sewer-gas is sulphureted 
hydrogen, a deadly poison. This is in itself a suf- 
ficient argument that there is danger in breathing 
sewer - gas ; but, as a man knows that what fire 
destroys can not be restored and will not insure his 
house until his neighbor's has been burned, argu- 
ment heaped upon argument will not convince 
many people that sewer-gas is as destructive of 
life as fire of buildings, until the actual results are 
placed before them. 

Diphtheria is one of the diseases which result 
from the breathing of sewer-gas ; it is a disease of 
the country, but it is making such ravages in cities 
as would cause excessive terror if due to yellow 
fever or cholera. According to the latest report 
of the National Board of Health, for the week end- 
ing March 19, diphtheria was the cause of more 
deaths in the United States — cou sumption and 
pneumonia alone excepted — than any other dis- 
ease ; and the fatality was greatest in cities with 
underground drainage. Diphtheria has been classed 


as one of the filth diseases, that is, filth is regarded 
as an important factor in its propagation and 
spread. This disease may be imparted to an 
apparently healthy person by contagion, but un- 
doubtedly with no serious results unless the blood 
has been already robbed of a portion of its vitality 
by some such agent as sewer-gas; 

During the Summer of 1879 and the Winter of 
1880, the writer visited a large number of dwell- 
ing - houses in Chicago — taken without any previ- 
ous knowledge of their character or condition — 
and made careful examinations of their drainage. 
These inspections were confined to dwellings in 
wtich there had been recent sickness, or deaths, 
from certain zymotic diseases, especially diphthe- 
ria. The object was to determine definitely the 
relation, if any existed, between such diseases 
and sewer - gas. The plan was first conceived of 
visiting all houses in which there had been deaths 
from the causes named in a certain month. This 
was pursued for a few days, but as the number of 
cases was so large the territory was restricted to a 
single ward. Considerable difficulty was encoun- 
tered at first, because many people did not like to 
admit a stranger into their houses unless he had the 
authority of the law, and, besides, they did not 
like the implied imputation that filth could be 
found on their premises ; it was difficult to make 


them believe that they were not necessarily respon- 
sible for defects in the drainage of their houses, 
and that it would be for their interest to have such 
defects, if they existed, brought to light. The 
assistance of Inspector Genung, of the Health de- 
partment, whose official authority secured unre- 
stricted privileges, was afterward offered by Dr. 
DeWolf, and the inspector assisted in nearly all 
the investigations here reported. Almost inva- 
riably it was insisted by people that there was no 
sewer-gas in their houses, and never had been, and 
yet when the doors were thrown open, the atmos- 
phere within was often found to be tainted unmis- 
takably with odors from the sewer. The occupants 
had become so accustomed to the sewer air that 
they could not distinguish it. In answer to ques- 
tions they usually acknowledged that there were 
no traps in the waste-pipes leading from their 
kitchen sinks, or they failed to know what traps 
were or to understand their use. A woman who 
responded to a rap at the door of a frame house on 
South Jefferson street, in which there had been a 
recent death from diphtheria, said that the house 
was in a perfect condition so far as its drainage 
was concerned. She laughed at the idea that 
sewer - gas had ever found its way into her rooms ; 
but the warm air which sought relief through the 

open door brought with it a very perceptible odor 


of sewer -gas. The woman, who politely refused 
to permit an examination of the drains, had a 
sallow complexion ; there were dark rings under 
her eyes, a vacant look in the eyes themselves, and 
a listless expression in her face. She was plainly 
enough not well. There was good evidence that 
she was suffering from blood-poisoning. The same 
tell- tale symptoms were seen in the faces of other 
women in the house. The building was one of a 
class erected years ago, when they were needed in 
a hurry, and when plumbers and drain - layers had 
even fewer conscientious scruples than they have 
at the present time. 

A two-story frame house at No. 681 South May 
street was found to be occupied by three families, 
one of which belonged to the landlady. The first 
floor front was the home of a Bohemian family 
named Wille. A few days before the visit to the 
house, Mr. and Mrs. Wille had lost a little girl 
two years old. A year previous, a little boy of 
five had been taken from them. This was soon 
after they moved into the house. Both of the 
children died of diphtheria. The boy was sick 
only three days ; the girl, nine. Two children 
were left — one a babe in the mother's arms. This 
child was far from being healthy, as eruptions on 
its face and a rattle in its throat indicated. The 
mother's countenance was not only expressive of 


deep despair, but colorless, except that there were 
the tell-tale dark rings under her eyes. She did 
not object to having an examination of the prem- 
ises made. There were three rooms occupied by 
her family, and they were quite clean and neat. 
In the kitchen was a sink. This connected Avith 
the sewer through an intervening catch-basin. Into 
this basin two other kitchen sinks emptied. Mrs. 
Wille's kitchen was small, and the only bed-room 
the family had opened out of the kitchen. The 
bed was not more than twelve feet from the sink. 
If foul odors came from the waste-pipe, they 
would first fill the kitchen and then the bed - room. 
It would be possible and very probable that they 
should escape constantly during the night and 
find their way to the lungs of the family and be 
breathed over and over again without being de- 
tected. Mrs. Wille was questioned upon this point 
and replied : ' ' Oh, sir, those awful smells ! They 
bother us terribly, and especially in the morning, 
or after a storm." Xhe question was unnecessary. 
The outlet of the sink was covered by an inverted 
bowl, the only defense the poor woman had against 
odors whose source she had discovered, and which 
were to her exceedingly obnoxious. 

Was this odor sewer - gas % As usual in houses 
of that class, there was found to be no trap in the 
pipe which connected the sink with the catch-basin 


— the latter, an intercepting cess-pool between the 
house and the sewer, usually built directly under 
the house. (See plate IV.) The waste - pipe was 
no less than twenty -five feet in length, and the 
greater portion of it ran horizontally. Its inner 
surface was undoubtedly coated with the festering 
sediment of the waste which had been flowing 
through it for years. Not only was this constantly 
generating and giving off a poisonous gas — noth- 
ing more and nothing less than sewer -gas — but 
also the waste - pipe afforded a means of ventilation 
for the foul catch - basin, which had no other ven- 
tilation, directly into the kitchen. The condition 
of things is exactly represented in Plate III., the 
arrows indicating the course of the poisonous and 
offensive exhalation. 

Two weeks previous to the death of Maria 
Wille, a child of about the same age died of dipli 
theria in the adjoining house, or at No. 679 South 
May street. The construction of this house was 
found to be similar in every respect to the one 
described. It is unnecessary to go into further 
details. All the houses in that neighborhood were 
built at about the same time, and the defects of one 
were duplicated in another. The street was un- 
paved, and stagnant water might sometimes be 
seen in the gutters. The buildings were crowded 
together, and the yards small. The privies were 

Plate III. 

Untrapped Waste-pipe. 


in the rear, and not cleaned as often and thorough- 
ly as they should have been. Occasionally these 
adjuncts were unpleasantly close to the houses, 
and the odors from them were carried into win- 
dows and doors on every breeze. The residents 
were mostly Bohemians and Germans, who occa- 
sionally owned a cow. In such case the stable was 
apt to become as great a nuisance as the privies. 
The result was that the women and children, who 
were kept at home night and day, could not enjoy 
the blessings of pure and sweet air within doors 
or out. 

A child two years old died of diphtheria, at No. 
243 South Jefferson street, a house which provided 
' ' homes " for four families. Each kitchen, or 
room used as a kitchen, was supplied with a sink, 
whose waste-pipe furnished an uninterrupted com- 
munication with the catch-basin. The liquid waste 
of the four kitchens emptied into the same catch- 
basin. This was not cleaned oftener than once a 
year ; but had it been cleaned once a week, its con- 
tents would send up sewer-gas to the kitchens in 
quantities which would have been exceedingly 
dangerous. At the time of the visit, the odor of 
sewer-gas was plainly noticeable in the rooms, and 
very offensive at the outlet of the sinks. The 
mother of the babe that died pointed out the fam- 
ily bed-room. It opened into the kitchen ; the 


beds were not more than ten feet from the sink. 
A baby in the mother's arms was a puny thing ; it 
did not seem that its lamp of life could burn much 
longer. Ten days later there was crape on the 

No one mourned more deeply, and none de- 
served greater sympathy, than Mr. and Mrs. Ed- 
ward Weissart, who lived at No. 103 Clybourn 
avenue. They had five as healthy and promising 
children as any in the city. In two weeks, four 
were taken from them, and the one left was barely 
rescued from death. The case was the more piti- 
able in that the deaths seemed to have been entirely 
unnecessary. The four died of diphtheria, or 
diphtheritic croup, as the attending physician de- 
nominated it, and the cause for it was as evident as 
that flowers are cut down by frost in the chill 
nights of Autumn. Without any warning, Clara, 
six years old, and Eda, two years younger, were 
taken down with sore throats, on Wednesday, 
September 8, and were put to bed. On Friday, 
two days later, Clara died, and on Sunday morn- 
ing Eda met the same fate. Both were buried 
together on that Sunday afternoon. On the day 
that Clara died, Adolph, the baby, sixteen months 
old, was put in bed with his little throat inflamed 
and swelling. He lived only till the Wednesday 
following, the physician's skill availing nothing. 


In the meantime, little Albert, two years old, was 
afflicted in the same manner. He was placed 
under the care of physicians on the day after Clara 
died, Saturday, and he, too, was a corpse in eight 
days. The remaining child, who was finally 
afflicted, was hurried out of the house. The 
bodies of the four whose spirits were taken are 
now resting in Waldheim cemetery. 

It is stated above that the cause for these deaths 
was apparent. It might have been removed, and 
the lives saved. The privy, used in common by 
the eight families occupying the house, was a two- 
story brick structure, and stood in a small court 
between front and rear divisions of the building. 
The contents of this were supposed to run through 
a drain to a catch-basin, and thence to the street 
sewer. This drain was found to be clogged, and 
the filth in the privy vault could not escape. As 
the vault filled, the contents worked back into a 
drain which connected with the down-spout, from 
the roof — a pipe which carries off the roof-water. 
This did not have close joints, and the result was, 
that it permitted the filth to ooze out upon the 
ground. It is not known how long this was going 
on, but the earth in the court into which it soaked 
was saturated with the waste to a depth of more 
than two feet. More than two tons of filth, which 

had been giving off its foul and destructive odors, 


to rise and enter the windows and doors above, 
were finally removed. The people had suffered 
exceedingly, at times, from the annoyance, and 
yet the privy waste had so soaked away in the 
soil that they did not suspect the source of the 

It is doubtful that the offensive emanations 
from this filth can be connected with the disease 
which invaded Mr. Weissart's family, so much as* 
the sewer-gas which escaped into their living 
rooms through the kitchen sink. The waste-pipe 
which extended from the sink to the main drain un- 
der the house, had no trap in it, nor was there any 
trap in the drain itself ;. both were, also, un venti- 
lated. The gas generated by the decaying sedi- 
ment adhering to the inner surface of the waste- 
pipe and drain, was nothing else than sewer-gas, 
incorrectly, perhaps, so called. The family said 
that they had suffered greatly from the foul odors 
which came from the sink. The children first 
attacked slept in a bed-room adjoining the kitchen, 
and a small open window afforded communication 
between the two rooms. 

Sickness from various causes was said to have 
prevailed almost continuously among children in 
the neighborhood of No. 52 West Thirteenth place. 
The street was not graded, though a sewer had 
been laid in it. The houses were for the most part 


early-built frames, and the drainage in them was 
of the kind put into houses ten years ago — 2 
adapted only to carrying waste out of buildings. 
There was nothing in it to keep out the * gases 
of decomposition. The house at No. 52 was oc- 
cupied on the second floor by a cigar manufacturer 
named Eees. One of his children came home 
from school one day feeling ' ' very tired, " as the 
little one explained. She had not been strong for 
many months, and had often complained of being 
"tired." She had not been apparently sick, and 
consequently had not had medical attendance ; but 
she had lost flesh, was without appetite, and had 
become quite thin. A sister two years younger 
was similarly affected. The parents could not 
account for this, and certainly had no idea that 
the stenches proceeding from the kitchen sink 
had anything to do with the evident ill-health of 
their children. The mother maintained that she 
always kept her house as clean and neat as possi- 
ble, and assuredly it was a model of neatness and 
cleanliness when visited. She said that the children 
were always warmly clothed and otherwise pro- 
vided with evervthino: that ought to secure health 

«- CD O 

and comfort. Like many another fond mother she 
had watched over and* cared for them as tenderly 
as though they were two delicate flowers. On the 
day after the elder child came home unusually 


"tired," her throat became sore with diphtheria. 
,A physician was promptly summoned and she was 
carried safely through the attack. The disease 
came again and again until she had been sick four 
times. In the meantime her sister was prostrated 
and died after an illness of ten days. The parents 
claimed that there had been a most disagreeable 
odor escaping from the outlet of the sink. In the 
Summer the privy had overflowed, and its foul 
contents spread out over the yard. The waste- 
pipe of the sink was found to run directly into the 
privy vault, which in turn was supposed to empty 
into the sewer. The outlet of this had plainly be- 
come choked. There was no trap in the waste- 
pipe, nor had it any ventilation, — nothing to pre- 
vent the gases generated in the vault from enter- 
ing the house. 

At No. 138 West Ohio street, a woman was 
found sick in bed with erysipelas, and a little boy 
lay by her side, not yet recovered from an attack 
of diphtheria, breathing the poisonous atmosphere 
of the sick-room, so offensive that the writer was 
compelled at once to quit the house. A child four 
years of age died there on December 30, after an 
illness of five days. This child belonged to a fam- 
ily named Murray, who were occupying two lower 
front rooms and boarding in the house. They had 
been there about two months. During that time it 


was discovered that the catch -basin had become 
closed, the result of neglect in cleaning it, and 
that its contents had oozed out and run under the 
house until there was finally no room for more filth 
and it came up through the floor. The catch-basin 
received not only the waste from the kitchen, but 
also the contents of the privy vault. The basin 
was cleaned out, and a communication again estab- 
lished with the sewer ; but as the water ran off, a 
mass of festering filth was left on the ground to 
continue to breed disease. One of the occupants 
said there had been seven deaths in the house to 
her personal knowledge. Some one was constantly 
sick in it. 

At No. 159 Bremer street, a girl five years of 
age died of diphtheria after a sickness of four days. 
So far as known the disease was not the result of 
direct contagion. There Avere other cases of diph- 
theria in the house a little later, but these were 
cured. The house was found to be a two-story and 
basement structure, and was built five years ago. 
The privies were in the rear, but within the house 
there were the usual kitchen sinks whose waste- 
pipes were without traps and ventilation. The 
mother of the child that died said she was annoyed 
by the " smells" from the sink in her kitchen at 
times. She herself was not well, and a small child 
which she carried in her arms would have been 


under the care of a physician had its mother been 
able to pay for medical attendance. 

At No. 17 Will street, Jane A. Craty, twelve 
years old, died of diphtheria on December 21, 
after a sickness of ten days. She had been at 
school, but, so far as known, the disease was not 
transmitted to her by contagion. She had been 
complaining of exhaustion for several days, and 
could not eat a proper amount of food. She had 
received permission to stay at home and rest, when 
when she came from school on Friday night, but 
on the following morning her throat was sore. 
The same day an older brother was taken with the 
diphtheria, and compelled to quit his work. The 
boy lived ; the girl died. Another girl was sick in 
bed with the disease when the house was visited, 
but she was expected to recover. A fourth child, a 
girl, was not afflicted at all. The house in which 
the family lived was an old one, two stories high, 
and not connected with the street sewer until about 
two weeks before the sickness occurred. Mrs. 
Craty said that there had never been any sickness 
previously in her family. 

Jeannette M. Hill, nine years old, died at No. 262 
Hubbard street, on December 19. A boy about 
two years younger, the only remaining child in 
the family, was first attacked, but he recovered. 
The little girl was sick just a week. The mother 


did not know that her children had come in con- 
tact with others afflicted with diphtheria. The 
sink was in a summer kitchen, " a sort of shanty," 
as the woman called it, but a substantial one, built 
against the house, in the rear. Not only was there 
no trap in the waste-pipe, but the small lead pipe 
which served as an immediate outlet for the sink, 
emptied into a large pipe of tin, and no attempt 
had been made to unite the two closely. There 
was nothing to prevent the ventilation of the 
catch-basin into the kitchen. During the cold 
weather, the heat of the house tended to draw the 
gases through the crevices at the sides of the door 
and in the wall into sleeping - rooms. 

At No. 747 South Jefferson street, Paul F. 
Brcecker, three years old, died on December 30, 
of diphtheria, after an illness of ten days. The 
main drain under the house extended back to a 
catch-basin in the yard, into which all the liquid 
waste of a barn was conducted. Directly under 
the kitchen floor this waste, augmented by the 
contents of the house water-closets, which were in 
the basement, was poured into a second catch- 
basin. Before it reached the street sewer, it was 
compelled to pass through another catch-basin — 
the third of a series of cesspools under and about 
the house, unventilated, except by the pipes which 
led up into the rooms of the house. The whole 


family, including the father, had been troubled 
with sore throats more or less during the Fall and 

At No. 52 South Union street, a boy, eight 
years old, died of diphtheria on December 31. 
His parents occupied the rear rooms on the first 
floor, and their kitchen sink emptied into a wooden 
drain leading to a catch-basin. The waste-pipe 
was without a trap. 

At No. 40 Fry street, Mary Walpool, four 
years old, died of diphtheria on December 27. 
The room occupied by the Walpool family as 
sitting-room, eating-room, and kitchen, had the 
usual sink in it, connected with the sewer, without 
any trap in the waste-pipe. 

The house at No. 31 Snell street, was a tene- 
ment. A family named Nelson had occupied three 
small, rear rooms on the first floor, for eight or ten 
months. On December 29, they lost their only 
child, one year old, from diphtheria The father 
and mother immediately moved out. An un- 
trapped sink, communicating with the privy vault 
was found in their abandoned kitchen. Other 
occupants of the house said that the privy odors 
working back through their sinks were so offensive 
that they had been often compelled to thrust rags 
into the sink outlets. 

Sewer-gas was found in all these houses, but it 


will be noticed that this gas did not, in all cases, 
come directly from the sewer. As corroborative 
of what has been already said about the formation 
of sewer-gas in drains and waste-pipes, the follow- 
ing may be quoted from Colonel George E. Waring, 
Jr. , an experienced sanitary engineer. He says : 
' ' We have heard so much of sewer-gas that we 
were in danger of ascribing the production of this 
foul air only to the sewer and cesspool. Indeed, 
the majority of sanitarians to this day seem to be- 
lieve that if they can effect a thorough disconnec- 
tion between the sewer, or drain, and the waste- 
pipes of the house, they have gained a sufficient 
protection against sewer-gas. The fact is, that 
that combination of the gaseous products of or- 
ganic decomposition, which is known by the gen- 
eric name of sewer-gas, is very largely produced 
by the contents of the house-pipes themselves. 
Not only in the traps, where the coarser matters 
accumulate, but all along the walls of the inclosed 
pipes, where filth has attached itself in its passage, 
there is a constant decomposition going on which 
is producing its constant results." Since the above 
was put in type, Colonel Waring has more fully 
elaborated this idea in the May number of Scrib- 
ners' Monthly. 

Dr. Lindsley, already quoted from, also says : 
D 3 


" But the gases of putrefaction may be produced 
elsewhere than in the street sewers — aye, even 
within the walls of our own houses. The drain- 
pipes from our kitchen sinks and the bed-room 
basins are little sewers, and in a modern city house 
of average size, these, with the soil-pipes from the 
water-closet and the larger drain-pipe into which 
they all enter in the cellar, present an aggregate 
superficial surface of many square feet. This sur- 
face is thickly and completely besmeared with 
deposits from the filthy fluids constantly passing 
over it. The gases generated here differ from 
those in the larger sewers of the street only in be- 
ing more virulent from their greater concentration, 
because of less admixture with the common air. 
And these gases, made within the very walls of our 
houses, literally within the walls, are not stagnant, 
not motionless — they must move on to give place 
to constant new supplies ; no trap can stop them. 
Unless special provision is made for their free pass- 
age to the open air without, more or less of them 
will surely find their way to the air within the 
house. This is emphatically true of those drains 
connecting kitchen sinks, water - closets, etc. , with 
unventilated cesspools. As well might one try to 
trap the neck of a bottle, and then fill it with wine 
without displacing the air in the bottle. There is 


evidence enough that cesspools, as usually con- 
structed, are always sources of great danger, and 
even under the most favorable conditions of con- 
struction, are worse than the sewers." 
The Chicago catch-basin is a cesspool. 




A poor man's treasures are his children. Fire 
may sweep away his house and all that he has 
accumulated in years of hard labor, and the afflic- 
tion is greater than those in easy circumstances 
can appreciate. A poor man's solace and source 
of inspiration are the affection of his children. 
When death comes in and takes them, the affliction 
is not to be compared to that which fire can bring. 
The poor man is compelled to purchase property 
that is low in price, or rent that which comes with- 
in slender means. The consequence is that he 
must often take his family into quarters of the city 
where the streets are unpaved, the drainage defect- 
ive, and the houses otherwise unfit for habitation. 
Hence it is that the zymotic diseases, and especial- 
ly diphtheria and scarlet fever, prevail to so large 
an extent among the families of the poorer classes. 
Once in a house, they seldom leave it until they 
have secured more than one victim. 

While the cases here reported relate almost ex- 
clusively to deaths from diphtheria in families who 


were not able to improve their sanitary surround- 
ings, if they would, it should not be forgotten that 
there are a dozen other diseases which might be 
traced to sewer-gas poisoning, and which constant- 
ly prevail, though perhaps not to so great an ex- 
tent as diphtheria. 

Mr. and Mrs. Green, of No. 3,009 Dearborn 
street, saw, within five days, their three children 
taken from them. The first, a boy of seven, died 
on December 24, and two girls followed him on 
December 28 and 29, respectively. The sickness 
ranged in duration from five to seven days. Pre- 
viously, the children were said to have been 
types of health and vigor. The boy's throat be- 
came sore and pains in his chest followed, indicat- 
ing pneumonia. At no time did any of the three 
appear to be seriously sick until a very few hours 
before their death. To the casual observer there 
was no cause for this diphtheria. So far as known, 
the children had not come in contact with any 
other child that was sick with it. To the careful 
inquirer, there was sufficient cause in the defective 
drainage of the house. The building stood on the 
rear part of a lot and very close to a double privy, 
used by the members of several families. Its vault 
was connected with the street sewer, and into it 
emptied the waste from the kitchen sink. The 
waste - pipe from this sink was without a trap, but 


Mr. Green had taken what he believed to be pre- 
cautions against the introduction of deleterious 
gases from the privy vault. The waste-pipe emptied 
loosely into a wooden drain under the house. This 
drain lay upon the surface of the ground. Several 
holes were bored through its top to permit the 
escape of gas, which Mr. Green thought had belter 
be under the house than within it. But he simply 
promoted a circulation which he had hoped to 
check. The concentrated gases of the privy vault, 
generated during the night, found ready means of 
ingress to all parts of the house, aided, as they 
were, by the drains and the heat of the rooms 
during the cold weather of December. Mr. and 
Mrs. Green did not notice offensive odors in their 
house because they had used a great deal of car- 
bolic acid, chloride of lime, and other ' ' disinfect- 
ants," to ward off danger, as Mr. Green said. The 
odor of these simply counteracted foul smells, 
but did not destroy the poison in the gases. The 
fact that he had used disinfectants at all implies 
that at some time there was a perceptible odor from 
the sewer or privy, and that he was fighting an 
actual and not a possible danger. It is often that 
a man dreads to acknowledge, even to himself, 
that his house drainage is defective, or that he has 
not taken every reasonable precaution to shut out 
sewer-gas. His method may be an original one, 


but his confidence in its efficacy is apt to be greater 
than in the u new-fangled" notions of experts. 
Hence it is that a system of drainage so plainly 
deficient as that in the house of Mr. Green is often 
believed to be all - sufficient. It is exceedingly 
doubtful if his home can be made as healtlry as 
his own and his wife's efforts would warrant, 
until the privy is removed farther away, and 
all drainage communication between it and the 
house shall be cut off by proper traps and ventila- 

A very pleasant and apparently comfortable 
house at No. 382 Clybourn avenue was turned into 
a scene of mourning by the death of a little girl, 
four years of age. The mother said her child had 
been unusually strong and active until taken down 
suddenly with sore throat. In four days she died 
of diphtheria. No sewer was built in Clybourn 
avenue in the neighborhood of the house named 
until the Summer previous to this death. Before 
that time the waste of the kitchen had run 
into the gutter. This practice was certainly bad 
enough, but when the sewer was completed the 
kitchen sink was connected through an intervening 
catch -basin with the sewer. The family looked 
upon the improvement as a blessing, for there was 
no longer stagnant water in front of the house and 
in the yard. The mother was asked if she had 


been annoyed by ' ' bad smells " issuing from the 
outlet of the sink. She replied in the affirmative, 
and said that her husband managed to keep them 
out at night by placing a bowl over the orifice. 
The woman had never thought that the foul odors 
were at all dangerous. To be rid of their annoy- 
ance was all that she had ever hoped for. Before 
the house was connected with the sewer there was 
sickness in the family, but the cases were not fatal, 
and hardly serious ; the first case of sickness after- 
ward was from a disease which is known to be 
affected, if not caused, by sewer-gas, and it ended 
fatally within a very short time. 

A boy, five years old, died at No. 263 North 
Clark street, of diphtheria. His parents occu- 
pied a flat in a business block at that num- 
ber. Their front room was devoted to the uses 
of a barber - shop, and the living rooms were 
in the rear. The basement was unoccupied, ex- 
cept by a collection of odds and ends and a 
great deal of dirt. There was a catch - basin 
under the basement floor which had not been 
cleaned for years, apparently. When opened the 
stench from it was almost unbearable. There were 
traps under the sinks, but the rooms were full of 
sewer-gas at the time of the visit. Two water- 
closets, one on the first floor and one in the base- 
ment, were exceedingly foul, and were without 


ventilation. The place was a most undesirable 

A family of respectable and cleanly German 
people were found living in a restaurant which 
they owned and conducted on South Water street. 
Less than two weeks before the visit made to the 
premises, the proprietor had three promising chil- 
dren ; one only was then living, and his recovery 
from a severe attack of diphtheria was not yet 
assured. The two others, girls, aged two and nine 
years each, died of diphtheria on January 8 and 14 
respectively. Those who do not believe that sewer- 
gas was wholly or largely responsible for these 
deaths should have the privilege of visiting the 
premises and examining the drainage for them- 
selves. A plainer case could not be asked for, and 
yet the parents of the children did not believe that 
sewer-gas had anything to do with the disease. Be- 
cause there was nothing on the outside of the 
waste-pipes and drains to produce sewer-gas, they 
could not believe that it would come from anything 
within the drains. Besides, they used ' ' disinfect- 
ants " to overcome the bad smells, and wondered 
why any one should suggest the presence and poison 
of sewer-gas. When the gentleman bought the res- 
taurant, which, by the way, was a cheap building 
erected on the site of a structure swept away by the 
^reat fire, he made the necessary additions in the 


rear to provide his family with a comfortable home. 
Among the " improvements " added was a water- 
closet. The soil-pipe connecting the closet with 
the drain below was made of tin, and resembled a 
cheap down-spout from the roof, through which 
rain-water runs off. Just above its junction with 
the drain it was bent into the shape of an ordinary 
water-closet trap. The trouble with it was that 
none of the joints made by the soldering of the 
sections was properly made. The drain into which 
the soil-pipe emptied was simply a long wooden 
box running under the building and resting upon 
the surface of the ground. It extended to a catch- 
basin in the rear. A sink waste-pipe, also made of 
tin, emptied into the wooden drain, and was not 

A tenement house, at No. 10 West Thirteenth 
street, furnished "homes "for six families. One 
of these was that of Mrs. Miller, who lived on the 
second floor. Her little girl, Maria, five years old, 
died on December 23, after a sickness from malig- 
nant diphtheria of two days only. The poor wo- 
man, overcome with grief at her loss, said that she 
should get out of the building at the earliest possi- 
ble moment. She had been there five years, and 
her children had been sick more or less during the 
entire time. She had one child left, which she 
would try to save, but she was convinced that 


health could not be had in that building. She com- 
plained bitterly of the odors — the "awful smells," 
as she characterized them — which seemed con- 
stantly to escape from the sink. This sink was not 
in the kitchen, but in a narrow hall, and used as 
all sinks are supposed to be. Its waste-pipe was 
without the needed trap. The doors could not shut 
out the escaping gas, and the air in all her rooms 
was tainted by it. 

At Xo. 3,739 Emerald avenue was a two-story 
frame house, occupied by three families. Two of 
them lived on the second floor, and in rather con- 
tracted quarters. Mary Ann Griffin, a two-year- 
old child, died of diphtheria, on December 9, after 
an illness of five days. The mother spoke of the 
child as having been somewhat feeble, thousrh 
never before sick. One day the latter complained 
that her throat was sore, and she could not drink 
her accustomed cup of tea. A doctor was sum- 
moned, and he said at once that he thought his 
services would be useless. A fat baby, with color- 
less face, which had thus far escaped the disease, 
sat on the floor at the time of the visit to the 
house. The little girl had not been exposed to 
contagion, and, as the same apparent cause of the 
disease which fastened itself upon her remained, 
it seemed probable that the babe would suffer a 
like fate. This house was connected with the 


street sewer the Spring previous. In reply to the 
question whether she had ever detected any odors 
escaping from the sink, Mrs. Griffin replied that 
she had, and that, they were very offensive. To 
prevent their escape, she had put a cloth in and 
over the outlet, and on this a twenty-two pound 
cannon-ball ! She found this treatment as effectual 
as a trap. The woman did not seem to think that 
the sewer-gas was responsible for her child's sick- 
ness. Her physician had told her that the diph- 
theria "was in the air"; he made no inquiries 
about the drainage. The family had lived in 
the house for three years, and there had been 
no sickness in it, except a light case of the 
measles, until the house was connected with the 
sewer. Even then there w^as no sickness so long 
as warm weather continued and the house was well 
ventilated. For two or three weeks before the 
diphtheria appeared, the children had been shut 
close within the house. 

A child three years old died of diphtheria in 
the low and very filthy restaurant at No. 16 Lake 
street, on December 20. She was the daughter 
of the proprietor of that establishment, who lived 
with his family in the rear rooms of his shanty. 
Two children, a boy and a girl, were left, and 
when seen by the writer they had their throats 
wrapped about with flannel. The one that died 


had beeD sick nearly all the time the family had 
lived in the place — a year and three months. 
"Oh, no; dem sewers ish all right," replied the 
father, when questioned on the subject of sewer- 
gas ; " ve have no got him here ; dem sewers ish 
all right." He consented willingly, though, to 
have an examination made, and the basement, or 
cellar, of his establishment, was explored. The 
coffee-shop was built over the ruins of some pre- 
tentious structure destroyed by fire. Two-by-four 
scantlings were placed on end for a foundation, 
and on them rested the superstructure, very shab- 
bilv built. A few boards nailed to the scantlings 
inclosed the basement, which was used as a store- 
room for old boxes and garbage, and a dog-kennel. 
The waste-pipes from the kitchen led through the 
floor only, and emptied their contents unceremoni- 
ously on the ground. A great cesspool was found 
there, and this the proprietor of the place called 
his "all right" sewer. This waste was partially 
frozen over, but was, nevertheless, offensive be- 
yond endurance. 

"How about your water-closet?" was asked; 
' ' where is that 1 " 

u Ve don't have none at all," said the honest 
Dutchman ; " ve takes a pail and use him in de 
morning, and den I dump him in de yard. " 

A cottage at No. 560 North Franklin street was 


visited. This was in response to a request, by a 
physician, that an examination for sewer-gas be 
made, since to nothing else could he attribute the 
sickness of his patients — the mother of the family 
and her children. She and they had been afflicted 
for weeks with diarrhoea and general derangement 
of the stomach, she said. Her face gave indications 
of impure blood in a number -of boils. The family 
had come from England a year previous, and all 
were then, and had been previously, healthy and 
strong. An exploration showed that the perfidious 
plumber had allowed the waste-pipe to empty into 
the drain-tile, five inches larger in diameter, with- 
out any attempt at closing the" exposed space be- 
tween them. As usual, there was nothing to 
prevent the return of the sewer-gas to the kitchen, 
and consequently to all parts of the house. The 
woman said she kept her children out doors as 
much as possible, but they were not so rosy- 
cheeked and sprightly as they once were. 

"Why, my dear sir, we never had any trouble 
in this house ; the water always runs off." This 
was the reply given to inquiries as to the condition 
of the house at No. 186 West Seventeenth street. 
That was a two-story frame building, and might 
have been a convenient house for one medium- 
sized family. In it were found four families, with 
a total membership of thirty-one. Four deaths 


from diphtheria had occurred in the house within 
the twelve days previous to the visit. One was 
that of a child nineteen months old, which had 
been sick eight days ; another victim was five 
years old, and had been sick for six days only. 
The apartments of all of the families were very 
small, and consisted in one instance of a living* 
room about fifteen feet square ; a bed-room 7x10 
feet in size, and a kitchen about the size of the 
living-room. In each kitchen was a sink, whose 
waste-pipe led directly into the basement, with no 
intervening trap. The waste-pipes of the entire 
building emptied in the basement into a wooden 
trough, with no attempt at a close connection. 
This wooden trough conducted the waste into a 
privy, itself in the basement. The contents of 
the privy were emptied through an underground 
drain into a catch-basin, which in turn emptied 
into the sewer. No one on the premises remem- 
bered that the catch-basin had ever been cleaned. 
It was not necessary to go further than the privy 
cesspool to locate the source of the blood diseases 
which had made their ravages in the house. This 
most abominable of abominations was open to 
admit of the free escape of the noxious gases gen- 
erated in its filth, a large quantity of which was 
constantly held in the vault. The waste-pipes 
leading into each of the four kitchens were simply 


ventilating flues for the privy vault. That there 
was but little sickness in Summer may be ac- 
counted for by the fact that the basement, as 
well as the rooms of the house, were always well 
ventilated. In the Winter this was closed, and 
the heat of the house sucked up the dangerous 

At No. 565 North Paulina street, little Adolph 
Hubner, four years old, died of diphtheria on 
December 28. Four days before, a baby, one 
year old, died, after a sickness of eight days. The 
mother was positive that her children were not out 
of the house and in contact with other children 
who might have had the disease. The last previ- 
ous case of sickness from diphtheria in the neigh- 
borhood occurred in October, and that was several 
blocks distant, The attending physician seemed 
to have reported the first case as scarlet fever, 
although the mother said she was given to under- 
stand that both cases were the same ; at any rate, 
both children had some fever, and neither was 
considered dangerous until a few hours before 
death. There were not the usual marked symp- 
toms of diphtheria. There were six children 
remaining in the family, none of whom was more 
than twelve years of age ; all of these had escaped 
the contagion, either of scarlet fever or diphtheria. 
As usual, the victims were the youngest and the 


most frail. It did not seem at all unlikely that 
some of the others might yet meet the same fate, 
as their pallid countenances and thin bodies seemed 
to indicate poisoned blood. The family lived in 
the basement, or, as they would prefer to call it, 
the first floor, of a cottage. They had occupied 
the house for five years, but on the upper floor 
until two months previous. That floor was eight 
feet, at least, above the ground. The first floor 
had been used as a tailor-shop, until within the 
time named. Mr. Hubner seems then to have 
adopted the "penny wise and pound foolish" 
policy of moving into the basement, and renting 
the upper and better floor. The house was con- 
nected with the sewer only through sinks, whose 
waste-pipes, as might be expected, were without 
traps. The privy vault emptied into a catch-basin, 
whose contents, in turn, were conveyed to the 
street sewer through a drain which was under the 
house. The floor of the basement was very near 
to the ground, almost resting upon it. The 
polluted air in the house at the time of the inspec- 
tion would have been death to any child not ac- 
customed to it. 

At No. 696 South May street, in the neighbor- 
hood in which other deaths from diphtheria oc- 
curred, a child twelve years old died of this 

disease. The house was the ordinary two-story 
E 3* 


frame cottage, and served as a residence for two 
families. The child was sick five days. The 
"modern improvements" consisted of a kitchen 
sink only, which was connected with the catch- 
basin by a long stretch of lead pipe, untrapped 
and not ventilated. 

At No. 38 Sigel street, a girl four years of age 
succumbed to diphtheria, on December 29. The 
family occupied rear rooms on the first floor. The 
house was a two-story frame. The water-closet 
was conveniently disposed by being placed under 
the front steps. It had a vault, three feet deep, 
the outlet of which, communicating with the street 
sewer, was, according to the prescribed regula- 
tions, ' ' high enough above its bottom, effectually, 
to prevent anything but the liquid contents of the 
vault from passing into the drain. " The solid 
contents of the vault, of course, remained in the 
bottom until they could be converted into a liquid, 
or a gas. Communicating with this vault was a 
wooden drain, extending back under the house, 
and into this emptied the waste from the kitchen 
belonging to the family living in the rear, through 
a sink waste-pipe, which was found to be un- 
trapped. The parents of the deceased child com- 
plained bitterly of the stenches, extremely nauseat- 
ing in warm weather, which pervaded their prem- 
ises, which came from the water-closet through 


the sink waste - pipe, and which were undoubtedly 
the source of the fatal diphtheria. 

A child five months old died of diphtheria at 
No. 295 South Jefferson street, after a sickness of 
two days. The kitchen was supplied with a sink, 
whose waste-pipe was untrapped and not venti- 
lated. There was no other apparent cause for the 
disease than the sewer-gas, which might have 
escaped from the catch-basin, or been generated 
by the deposit on the inner surface of the waste- 
pipe itself. 

At 399 Larrabee street, two children died of 
diphtheria on January 1. This house was a tene- 
ment, and the four or five families living in it had 
few and small rooms. The family that lost the two 
children lived in the rear part of the house, and on 
the second floor. The water-closets were in the 
yard, but a sink was found in the kitchen, with an 
untrapped waste-pipe. The mother stated that she 
had been seriously annoyed by the obnoxious odors 
coming from the sink, especially in warm weather. 
The sorrowing woman was jealously guarding the 
only child she had left. 

A previously healthy boy, of four years of age, 
became sick from some unknown cause, at No. 597 
South Union street. A physician was summoned, 
and, according to the people in the house, he said 
the boy had the measles. He never told the parents 


differently, and they claimed not to have been 
aware that the child was very sick until, at the end 
of ten days from the time of the first attack, he 
died. In his report to the health department, the 
physician ascribed the death to diphtheria. The 
disease was generated de novo, the child ' not hav- 
ing come in contact with any person similarly 
afflicted, so far as could be learned. The house 
was a two-story frame structure, providing com- 
fortable and apparently healthy homes for the three 
families in it, except so far as the drainage was 
concerned. In the previous Spring, the house was 
connected with the street sewer, and the sink 
waste-pipes were not provided with traps. There 
must of necessity have been sewer-gas in the house 
at times. The family whose child died were neat 
and the yard about the premises was clean. 




The sanitary surroundings of the poor are so 
often the theme of pencil and tongue that it has 
come to be believed that death and disease do their 
work mainly among the middle and lower classes. 
Decaying garbage, cesspools and miscellaneous 
filth, in gutter, yard and house, are known to be 
hot-beds of malaria. Children, in overcrowded 
tenement houses and old rookeries, standing on an 
island in some sea of stagnant water, die by the 
dozens every week, and people allude to the cir- 
cumstance as a natural consequence. But an emissa- 
ry of death is lurking in the homes that are known 
as marble fronts, and he performs his duty with 
relentless certainty. There may not be so many 
deaths among the young on paved streets and in 
well-ordered houses, but there are delicate children 
and feeble men and women. The physician's skill 
goes far toward prolonging life, and so cheats 
death of immediate victims, bnt there is lack of 
ruddy health and vigor in brick mansions as well 
as in frame hovels, even though the former are 


supplied with all of the auxiliary conveniences 
which ingenuity can invent. The man who can 
control his circumstances supplies himself and his 
family with the best food ; secures ample recrea- 
tion for the relaxation of his strained powers ; en- 
joys the advantages of society, and, in short, 
avails himself of, and provides for those under his 
charge, all that is supposed to promote health. 
And yet, he often rises from bed in the morning 
with a headache, and suffers from general depres- 
sion ; feels more weary than when he retired ; is 
afflicted with a disordered stomach — due to dys- 
pepsia, according to his physician ; contracts ca- 
tarrh and diphtheria, and often falls into the hands 
of a fatal fever. He seems exceedingly suscepti- 
ble to changes in the weather, and his blood is 
always ready to absorb every poison that comes 
near him. The reason of all this is, in very many 
instances, that the houses in which these people 
live have defective drainage, and the street sewers 
are thus ventilated into them. Sewer-gas is a 
curse to marble fronts as well as cheap houses. 

The water - closet is not usually found in the 
class of houses to which reference has been made 
in the preceding chapters. It is put into the better 
class of residences, and through it additional means 
are provided for the introduction of sewer-gas. An 
entire system of house drainage in its simplicity — 

Plate IV. 

Simplicity and Seavee-gas. 


and it is the prevailing system — is shown in Plate 
IV. The liquid waste of a kitchen is intercepted 
by the catch-basin, but the water-closet has a more 
direct communication with the sewer. Usually 
there is an " S " trap under the water-closet, as indi- 
cated by the letter T. This is a bent pipe, sup- 
posed to be always full of water, which is again 
supposed to keep back gas generated in the sewer. 
That both of these suppositions are ill-founded will 
be shown further on. 

A house on Twentieth street, not far from 
Michigan avenue, was among the number visited. 
Outwardly it indicated an enviable home. It 
was the residence of a family of wealth, and 
every possible means seemed to have been taken, 
so far as the occupants knew, to secure health. 
They moved into the house about three months 
previous to the inspection here reported. In 
two or three weeks the wife began to decline in 
health. She was constantly afflicted with a disor- 
dered stomach, and was oppressed with a lassitude 
which she could not shake off. She complained to 
her husband, but he undertook to laugh away her 
fears. Soon, he was affected in the same manner, 
and poisoning through their food was suspected. 
They became extremely cautious in their diet, and 
began to take medicine for dyspepsia. They doc- 
tored and dieted, and continued to grow worse. 


The woman had the appearance of one who had 
just risen from a sick-bed, and then under protest. 
She said that her throat was continuously sore. It 
was a symptom for which she could not account, 
The gentleman's brother chanced to visit the place 
and suggested that the drainage might be out of 
order. It was then recollected that the lower part 
of the house was at times permeated with a dis- 
gusting odor, and, particularly, when it rained. It 
was decided to ask the Health department to in- 
vestigate. The investigation brought to light a 
mass of corrupting filth in the catch-basin in the 
basement, that was generating poisonous gas 
enough to obliterate a whole city full of men and 
women. Diluted by the atmosphere, it had been 
carried upward in currents of air, or forced up. by 
pressure, until the whole house had been infected 
with the poison. The woman had been confined 
to the house more than her husband, and became 
affected first. It slowly but surely poisoned his 
blood as well, and dragged him down to the verge 
of a dangerous sickness. The intolerable con- 
dition of the catch-basin was not the only objec- 
tionable thing brought to light. A two-inch waste- 
pipe from a sink in the kitchen led to a drain in 
the cellar, which communicated with the catch- 
basin. The drain itself was six inches in diameter. 
No proper connection seemed ever to have been 


made between the small pipe and the large drain. 
The former simply emptied into the latter at its 
end, and the space which the small pipe did not 
fill was left entirely uncovered. The drain became 
simply a ventilating tube for the catch-basin. The 
family were breathing surplus gas from the sewer 
in the street, which was forced back into their 
house whenever there was not an equilibrium be- 
tween the external air and the gas in the sewer ; 
not only were they breathing it but it saturated 
their food, and was taken into their stomachs at 
every meal. So much of it did they breathe, that 
it caused sore tonsils. It did not prostrate them 
with sickness, but it rendered them susceptible to 

The exhalations from the sewer might have 
been checked by a " running" trap in the main 
drain outside the walls of the building. This is 
of some consequence, inasmuch as it is generally 
heavier than other traps. When properly venti- 
lated, it is an effectual check to the passage of 
sewer-gas from the sewer into the house drains. 
Unfortunately, it has not, as a rule, been placed in 
drains already constructed. Of course, it has 
nothing to do with the control of sewer-gas gen- 
erated in the drains themselves. Its position and 
use are indicated in plate V, by the letter X. The 
drain C - D empties the catch-basin, which may be 


conceived as placed outside the building, where it 
properly belongs. 

During the Spring of 1879, there was an un- 
usual and unaccountable amount of sickness in one 
of the most elegant houses on West Washington 
street. The house was built eleven years previ- 
ous, at a cost of $30,000, and nothing was omitted, 
so far as the builder knew, to secure comfort and 
health. It had all the most useful of the accepted 
improvements in the way of drainage and ventila- 
tion, and some specifications made below will indi- 
cate the care that had been taken. The family 
occupying the house came into it not many months 
before, and found everything, as they supposed, in 
the best possible condition. There were four 
children in the family, who were intrusted to the 
care of a woman of good judgment. The nursery 
was on the first floor, and consisted of a suite of 
rooms, three of which were occupied by the gov- 
erness and the children as sleeping-rooms. The 
family had not been long in their new home when 
the children became very irritable, and some one 
of them was continually in bed sick. A skillful 
physician was employed, and he ' ; doctored " for 
this thing and that, and kept his little patients 
from dying, though to restore them to sound 
health seemed impossible. At length, the lady 
who had charge of the children became sick with 

Plate V. 

A Running Tea p. 


pneumonia. She was carried through the sickness, 
but not two weeks elapsed before she was again 
prostrated, and this time with typhoid fever. 
With great difficulty the disease was driven out of 
her system sufficiently to permit her to resume her 
duties, but not until she had suffered long and 

The Health Commissioner, Dr. DeWolf, was 
an acquaintance in the family, and he chanced to 
make them a friendly visit one evening. He no 
sooner entered the house than he noticed the 
peculiar odor of sewer-gas, which he surmised was 
being let loose by a defective drain. He bluntly 
called attention to it, but was told that it was 
nothing uncommon, and, in fact, was not noticed 
by the family to any great extent. He replied 
that it was a very serious matter, and that he 
would send an inspector to the house on the fol- 
lowing morning to make an investigation. The 
inspector found the catch-basin, which was built 
within the walls of the house, filled to overflowing, 
and the emptying drain so choked that the con- 
tents could no longer run off. A ton of filth was 
afterward removed from the sub-cellar. The gas 
generated by it had been the cause of all the sick- 
ness. ' ' Precautions " had been taken in the con- 
struction of the basin to prevent any of the evils 
which were known sometimes to result. It had 


been placed a little lower than usual, and a gradual 
descent had been made in the ground, on all sides, 
and a heavy coating of cement applied. This 
formed an extensive outer basin, which was in- 
tended to catch any possible overflow, and ulti- 
mately to return the water and filth to the catch- 
basin and the sewer, instead of allowing it to be 
absorbed by the earth, or to form cesspools under 
the house. This large reservoir was completely 
filled and running over with the waste which 
should have passed into the sewer. The earth 
beyond the edges of the huge bowl was receiving 
the liquid filth, and was soaked with it. The cause 
of this was a choked drain. There had been neg- 
lect in cleaning the catch-basin, and at length the 
* solid contents dropped to the bottom and wholly 
or partially choked the outlet. 

A lady living in one of the houses on the west 
side' of North LaSalle street, between Elm and 
Division streets, related her experience and that of 
her family, with sewer-gas, as follows : ' ' We came 
into this house last Spring, and you can see that it 
is apparently a very desirable home. We had not 
been here long when I detected most abominable 
odors, but it was impossible to locate them. One 
day I was confident they came from the outside, 
and then I believed that their source was within 
my own house. I exacted the most "scrupulous 


neatness on the part of my servants, requiring 
them to leave no vegetables of anv kind within the 
house. The members of my family were as de- 
voted to cleanliness as myself, and yet there was 
the stifling, horrible smell which aggravated my 
senses. I summoned the health officer of the 
ward, and asked him to see if there were not nui- 
sances in the neighboring yards, and particularly, 
in the stables which are built across the alley 
yonder. As he never made any report to me, I 
concluded that he found nothing objectionable. I 
noticed the strange odor at the time of rain storms, 
and when the wind was high especially. On that 
account I thought it must proceed from neighbor- 
ing out-houses and stables. Presently there was a 
noticeable decline in the health and spirits of my 
family. My daughter's children were constantly 
sick, and she was brought to the verge of prostra- 
tion. A gentleman who, with his family, occupies 
rooms in my house, and who is a builder himself, 
examined the plumbing work, and was unable to 
find any fault in it. We were less and less im- 
pressed with the belief that sewer-gas had anything 
to do with our afflictions. Notwithstanding this, 
we all continued to decline, and at last my daugh- 
ter started for the sea-shore with her children. She 
secured the attention of one of the best physicians 

in New York, and he at once said that they were 


suffering from malaria. This was the first profes- 
sional indication of the truth that we had. He 
prescribed a change of atmosphere and an escape 
from sewer-gas. At Narragansett Pier, my daugh- 
ter and her children are now well. It is only by 
artificial means that I am able to keep up, strong 
as you see I am, and a stranger to sickness. For 
weeks I have been taking arsenic and quinine three 
times a day. I am beginning to feel their influence 
in undermining my constitution, and I have ar- 
ranged for a prolonged trip to Colorado. I occupy 
a room on the second floor, and in that the sewer- 
gas, which is so annoying me, is most noticed. I 
believe it escapes from that wash-basin, and I want 
to know, sir, if something can not be done to keep 
it back. " 

The waste-pipes were properly trapped. Here 
were indications that traps might be ineffective. 
Sewer-gas was absorbed by the water in them, and 
given off above, or, as frequently occurs, the water 
was displaced or syphoned out. Plate VI indicates 
the condition of things in this house. 

Mr. L. J. Clawson, Jr., occupied with his fam- 
ily a house at No. 3,643 Indiana avenue, one of a 
block of ten stone-front houses. Outwardly, these 
were very desirable residences, and were the houses 
of those well-to-do in the world. The occupants 
understood the value and comfort of good health, 




and the way in which their houses were furnished 
and kept showed that they had not omitted any- 
thing which, so far as they had control, could secure 
health. Mr. Clawson's little girl, twenty-six months 
old, was taken sick on November 10. She had been 
a strong and healthy child. She was attacked with 
a sore throat. A physician was summoned, and 
he said it was membranous croup, believed by 
some physicians to be essentially diphtheria. She 
grew worse very rapidly, and it did not seem pos- 
sible that her life could be saved. More fortunate 
than hundreds of fathers in a city whose children 
are prostrated similarly, Mr. Clawson was able to 
secure the best medical skill, and a half dozen phy- 
sicians answered his summons to come and save his 
child at any cost. In eight days, she was pro- 
nounced out of danger. Mr. Clawson was told that 
the cause of the disease was sewer-o'as. He went 
to the agent of the property, and was laughed at 
for his trouble. It finally came to light that the 
house drains emptied into a wooden sewer in the 
street, and that the drains were so defective that 
sewer-gas had abundant opportunity to get into the 
house. Mr. Clawson had the proper remedies 
made, and then brought suit against his landlord, 
claiming damages in the sum of $5,000. The 
case is now pending. The outcome is awaited 
with interest, on account of its bearing upon the 


relation between landlord and tenant in sanitary 

In the third house from that of Mr. Clawson's, 
and in the same block, there was crape on the door 
at the time of the visit to the former house. A 
child had died, and the mother and two other chil- 
dren were prostrated with diphtheria. This was in 
the family of Mr. Joseph K. C. Forrest. Mr. For- 
rest stated that he had noticed sewer-gas in the 
house at times, and particularly during the Sum- 
mer. At any rate, there was nothing to prevent 
its entering the building. 

A lady, living on Thirty -ninth street, near Vin- 
cennes avenue, was found almost ready to believe 
herself a victim of fate. Five years ago, her hus- 
band died of throat disease, after a sickness last- 
ing only a few days. Their home was then on 
Wabash avenue, near Thirty - second street. She 
and her friends attributed his death to the defect- 
ive drainage, and, in the Spring of 1880, she 
secured a house on the south side of Thirty-ninth 
street. This is just outside the city limits, in the 
town of Hyde Park. The house was not con- 
nected with any sewer, and had none of the i ' mod- 
ern improvements. " There was only a sink in the 
kitchen, which was the nearest approach to the so- 
called ' ' improvements. " On this account the lady 
believed that she would effectually escape her per- 


sistent enemy, sewer-gas. She had not been in the 
latter house long, when the eldest boy, eight years 
old, began to fail in health. He became so nearly 
sick that she sent him into the country. He was 
brought back in the Fall, strong and full of a boy's 
spirits. Almost immediately he began to lose his 
health again, and, on November 14, was suddenly 
prostrated with malignant diphtheria. On the 
same day, a domestic, and another child, three 
years younger than the boy, went to bed with the 
same affliction. The attending physician was puz- 
zled when he learned that the house was not con- 
nected with the street sewer, since he was certain 
that he had detected the odor of sewer-gas. The 
writer was informed of the circumstances, and 
immediately made an examination of the premises. 
It was found that the kitchen waste was conveyed 
to an underground cesspool in the rear of the 
house. The waste-pipe communicated with it 
through a wooden drain, both untrapped. The 
cesspool had been in use for years ; it was without 
ventilation, except through the waste-pipe into the 
house. One of the children died. The mother 
hastened to the country with the other, where she 
has managed to keep it alive, but, even now, after 
nearly six months have passed, its throat, inter- 
nally relieved, is covered externally with running 
sores. The physician has wavering hopes that a 


permanent cure may be effected if the child can be 
protected from further sewer-gas poisoning. The 
children of the family who have taken this lady's 
place, in the Thirty-ninth street house, have been 
constantly sick with scarlet fever, or diphtheria, 
since moving into it. 

Among the houses visited was a pretentious 
one of brick, on a prominent North-side thorough- 
fare, in which a child, a boy of four, died of 
diphtheria. If sewer-gas was ever responsible for 
a death, it was for this one. From the first, the 
family were troubled by abominable odors. They 
endeavored to ignore their fears, but when mem- 
bers of the family began, one after another, to fall 
sick, and the stench became quite unendurable, an 
investigation was made. Then it came to light 
that there Avere no traps in any of the waste-pipes, 
and that the soil-pipes from the water-closet on the 
second floor had been leaking. The drippings had 
soaked through the wall in many places, and the 
wall-paper in a bed-room nearest the soil-pipe was 
found covered with a fundus growth. The ceiling 
of the same room, as well as of one in the base- 
ment, was discolored by the sewage. When the box 
covering of the soil-pipe was torn away, a disgust- 
ing stench escaped, and the wall on the interior 
was found to be literally soaked with the waste from 
the water-closet. Of course, the gentleman of the 


house notified his landlord, and, after much urg- 
ing and begging, succeeded in getting traps put 
in, and the soil-pipe mended with rags and putty ! 
Even these inefficient repairs were made too late, for 
one of the children became a victim of diphtheria. 
The lives of the other children were saved by 
prompt removal to another house. The catch- 
basin was found to be in a very unclean condition, 
and as there was nothing to prevent its gases from 
entering the kitchen, they had permeated the en- 
tire house. It is said that the house had been 
previously unhealthy to a notable extent. 

One of the children of Mr. C. H. Rowe, of 
No. 3,212 Michigan avenue, died, on December 
31, of diphtheria. A short lead pipe connected 
the hot water tank in the kitchen with the waste- 
pipe beloio a trap. When the water was allowed 
to run off at night, to prevent freezing, the gases 
of the catch-basin had free access to the tank, and 
to the room, through a defective stop-cock which 
was found in the outlet pipe. No part of the 
drainage was ventilated into the open air, and the 
traps were of little consequence. 

The following is a copy of a communication 

which was received at the Health department. The 

gentleman who wrote it is a prominent employe 

in the office of the Chicago and Northwestern 

Railway company: "I have just got up from a 


sick-bed, where I have been for the past two 
weeks with intermittent and bilious fever and 
chills. My little boy, seven years of age, suf- 
fered from the same, last month, and now my 
wife is down and very sick with the same com- 
plaint. In May I moved into a block of six brick 
houses, No. — Chestnut street, and I can truth- 
fully say that I and my family have been miser- 
able ever since. My doctor says the trouble is 
with the sewerage, and bad air throughout the 
house, and that we must have the matter attended 
to, or we will all die. I have understood from 
one of my neighbors that his dining-room stunk 
so that they could not eat there for months. Will 
you kindly give this matter your early attention, 
and send some of your competent men to investi- 
gate and see what can be done. My wife is very 
sick, and I have still a little fellow, four years old, 
that used to be as fat and as jolly as could be, but 
for the past month he has become very poor and 
lifeless. Be good enough to see to it that this 
sewerage is thoroughly investigated." 

The writer accompanied the inspector in his 
visit to these premises, and found the family suffer- 
ing with sickness, as the gentleman had described. 
It did not take long to find the cause. In the rear 
of the house, close to the wall, and directly under 
the window where the sick woman lay, was a slop- 

















basin connected with the sewer and imperfectly 
trapped. It was constantly emitting sewer -gas. 
Further investigation was made, and it was found 
that there had been an imperfect connection of the 
soil-pipe and the main drain. The cement used to 
close the space between the pipe and drain, of un- 
equal size, was of poor quality and had cracked, 
and pieces of it had fallen away. Sewer-gas had 
an uninterrupted communication between sewer 
and house. The connection between the kitchen- 
sink waste-pipe and drain was also defective. These 
faults, almost universal, are more fully explained 
in a succeeding chapter. An indication that such de- 
fective connection is a very serious matter is given 
in Plate VII, which also shows how rats may assist 
sewer -gas in finding its way through stone, or 
cemented, floors. 

Prof. Chandler, President of the New York City 
Board of Health, said, in an interview : ; ' Intelli- 
gent people are often amazed at being told that 
their houses are a constant invitation to disease. 
Some time ago one of my pupils died in circum- 
stances that indicated poisonous air. The house 
was a handsome one in Madison avenue, but I 
found that the sewer-pipe beneath the cellar was 
defective, and belched forth its gases into the house 
straight from the main sewer, between which and 
the house sewer there was actually no trap. The 


traps underneath the water-closets and basins were 
not ventilated, and such was the condition of the 
house that I was quite prepared for Dr. Fordyce 
Barker's diagnosis of sewer-gas poisoning. I know 
of four other handsome houses from which the 
families have recently been ordered out by Dr. 
Barker until the proper changes can be made. * * 
Men who will spend thousands of dollars on paint- 
ing and gilding and carving their houses, will not 
spend one cent to make sure that the air they and 
their families breathe is not reeking with danger- 
ous impurities which would make their hair stand 
on end with horror could they see them magnified 
a few hundred times. Doctors know something 
about these dangers, although not half what they 
ought to know ; but they contend that their busi- 
ness is to cure, and not to prevent. Sewer -gas 
gives them work all the year round. When the 
disease appears, the doctor is called in at the ex- 
pense of hundreds of dollars, whereas a few dol- 
lars spent in making sure of one's drains every 
year would obviate the necessity of doctors. It 
should be thought of far more importance to ex- 
amine one's cellar and one's drains and traps 
every year than to shake one's carpet and paint 
one's house." 

An illustration of what Prof. Chandler found 
on Madison avenue is given in Plate VIII. This 

Plate VIII. 

A Leaking Drain. 


represents a common stone drain under a tiled hall, 
leaking at every joint, and forming a large cess- 
pool under the house. In a house in Leeds, Eng- 
land, with such defective drainage, Dr. Teale says, 
in his ' ' Dangers to Health, " that enteric (typhoid) 
fever broke out, and from the initial case it spread 
to the neighboring village. " The drain was almost 
without fall, so much so that it had become blocked, 
and the sewage had found its way under the floor- 
ing of the passage and rooms." 





Sewer -gas is no mere bugbear. It is man's 
mortal enemy. "Our ancestors, a century or more 
ago, had a superstition which had come down from 
earlier times that every sewer or cesspool had 
within it a resident evil spirit. Like many another 
superstition which people forget when they grow 
wiser, the idea rested upon a truth which is every 
day becoming more evident to intelligent people 
of all classes. The evil spirit of the sewer and 
cesspool is that nameless something which we call 
organic -vapor. Analysis can not determine its 
composition, nor can the microscope find its poison- 
ous fangs. There is no means of finding out any- 
thing which will account for its subtle power of 
mischief. It is known that in sewer-gas, beyond 
the range of chemical test or microscopic investi- 
gation, there are innumerable intangible germs, 
which are the seeds of disease, and which bear 
within themselves the power and potency of death. 
There is as much use in trying to hold this invisi- 
ble enemy in suppression as in trying to chain a 


ghost. The only chance of conquering it is to let 
it loose to the pure air, when it will be quickly 
destroyed or rendered harmless by the oxidation 
of the organic cells, which show such malignant 
activity when mingled with the confined air of liv- 
ing and sleeping apartments. The poorest kind of 
economy is that of putting bad plumbing work 
into a house, and then having to pay large interest 
in the shape of doctors' and undertakers' bills." 

A distressing case of sewer-gas poisoning was 
reported from the house at No. 696 West Jackson 
street. This building proved to have been little 
else than a pest-house from the time of its con- 
struction — a period of about seven years. Dur- 
ing most of this time, there was sickness in it, and 
a number of deaths occurred. The last were those 
of Mr. Frank Culver, of the firm of Culver & 
Marsh, doing business at No. 637 West VanBuren 
street, and his infant child. Mr. Culver died of 
diphtheria, after a sickness of ten days. The 
building in which he lived was a two-story and 
basement structure, the basement of brick and the 
other portion of wood. Mr. Culver's father and 
mother and Mr. Marsh, his partner, with his fam- 
ily, also took up their residence in the same house. 
There were fourteen persons in all — not too many 
for the building, a commodious one. They had 
not been in it a day before they noticed unpleasant 


odors, but these were attributed to the former un- 
clean condition of the premises, and it was argued 
that the house would be all right as soon as 
it was thoroughly aired. The women became 
accustomed to the smells, and were not annoyed, 
after a few weeks, but the men invariably re- 
marked, when coming in from the fresh air at 
night, that there was something wrong. Within 
two weeks the symptoms of sewer-gas poisoning 
began to show themselves, and in time not one in 
the house could climb the stairs without clinging 
to the banisters. All were sleepless, and without 
appetite or ambition. The landlord was asked to 
have the cause of the trouble ferreted out, and 
remedied, but he repeatedly refused to give the 
matter his attention. He said that other tenants 
had lived in the house without complaining ; why 
shouldn't they ? At length Mr. Culver was pros- 
trated. Diphtheria of a malignant type attacked 
him, and his death was expected on the first night. 
A physician was summoned, and he at once de- 
clared that the cause was sewer-gas, which he 
distinctly detected on entering the house. A 
messenger was again dispatched to the landlord, 
with the opinion of the physician and the urgent 
request that he send a competent person to locate 
the trouble. All the waste-pipes within the build- 
ing were found to be in good condition. The 


catch-basin was next examined, and the strange 
revelation was made that it was as clean as Avhen 
built. During the seven years of the occupancy 
of the house, not a pint of sewage had been de- 
posited in it. This suoforested the true state of 
affairs, and a hole was cut through the kitchen 
floor, that access mi^ht be sained to the low cellar. 
Like so many houses in the city — rather, unlike 
a very few — this low cellar was simply a huge 
box, the size of the house, and about three feet 
deep. It was without ventilation on the sides, 
although there was abundant room above the sur- 
face of the ground for ventilating flues. In fact, 
grated flues were constructed in the outer layer of 
bricks in the wall, but the inner layer was built up 
without any regard to these openings. 

This house was well built. The floors were as 
tight as they could be made without cement. It 
was only when the pestilential gases beneath be- 
came dense that they were forced up through the 
invisible cracks and crevices ; when the hole was 
opened through the kitchen floor, a horrid and 
sickening smell arose that staggered those bend- 
ing over it. The cellar was found to be almost 
level full of liquid filth. Many have seen that 
portion of the south fork of the South Branch of 
the river nearest the stock-yards, into which the 
filth of the yards is poured by one of the large 


sewers. The surface of the water is covered with 
a thick layer of a greasy substance, which looks 
so much like the soil of the banks that men have 
mistaken it for solid earth, and stepped upon it 
only to be plunged into the mire. This is simply 
the solid matter which finds its way from the 
slaughter-houses in particles too fine to be inter- 
cepted for transformation into fertilizing material. 
When this clay-colored crust on the surface of the 
water is at rest, it is not so offensive, by the one- 
hundredth part, as when it is stirred, and yet, at 
no time, will any one with untrained nostrils care 
to linger near it for any length of time. The wa- 
ter under Mr. Culver's house was covered with a 
substance which resembled that on the south fork 
of the South Branch of the river, and the gases 
which it set free were like those of that portion of 
the river, although more intensely offensive. The 
landlord no longer refused to believe that there 
was cause for complaint about the sanitary condi- 
tion of the premises, and he ordered the cellar 
cleaned with no delay. The earth was dug out for 
several inches below the original bottom of the 
cellar, which had become saturated. Quantities 
of lime were thrown in, under the delusion that 
the cellar would be disinfected, and a patent 
alleged liquid disinfectant was also sprinkled freely 
about the house under delusion No. 2, that a 


stronger smell than that of sewer-gas was indica- 
tive of disinfection. What little good this might 
have done came too late. Mr. Culver died, and 
ten days later his little child joined him in spirit. 

The defects in the drainage, by which sickness 
and deaths were occasioned, are, by no means, the 
least worthy of consideration. The house had 
been built well enough ; it had been considered a 
choice residence, and had never wanted for occu- 
pants, notwithstanding no family, so far as could 
be learned, ever lived in it without almost constant 
sickness. The underground drains appeared to 
have been well laid, but the drain which connected 
with the catch-basin was directly under the chim- 
ney. The chimney settled, evidently, very soon 
after it had been built, and simply crushed the 
drain. The latter became clogged with dirt and 
refuse, and from that time on the waste from the 
kitchen poured down into the cellar and gradually 
filled it. This accounted for the fact that the 
catch-basin was like a new one, when uncovered 
seven years afterward. It very frequently occurs 
that a drain is broken, or displaced, by a wall un- 
der, or through, which it has been placed, (see 
Plate I,) but this is the first known instance in 
which a chimney has been built to do damage of 
that kind. 

The family of George Kretsinger occupied the 


house the previous year, and they suffered from 
the emanations of the foul sewage in the cellar. 
The family contained four persons ; three of them 
were prostrated with typhoid dysentery, and one 
died. It is important to note that Mr. Culver was 
an exceptionally vigorous and healthy man when 
he moved into his Jackson street home. Because 
he was strong and healthy, he was not proof 
against the poison of sewer-gas. 

At No. 897 West Washington street, the waste- 
pipes emptied into an open "slop-hopper" in the 
basement. This in turn communicated with the 
catch-basin by an untrapped drain. The lady of 
the house said : " We came to this house in May. 
Up to that time, we all were perfectly healthy, so 
far as we knew. My little girl, whom you see 
there, was the picture of health. She had never 
been sick, excepting, perhaps, some temporary 
ailment, to which all babies are doomed. From 
the time we came into this house until the present 
day, we have been annoyed by these horrible 
smells, and half of the time sick. I and my little 
o'irl have had diarrhoea and sore throats, and none 
of us have enjoyed a good night's rest. We get 
up in the morning more, exhausted than when we 
retired. Our joints are stiff, and we are almost 
without animation. Our blood is very much out 
of order. We have been attended by a physician, 


and he has prescribed for indigestion ! He has 
never suggested that our troubles arose from the 
poisonous sewer-gas, nor has he ever asked about 
it. The thought never occurred to him, evidently, 
that this was the case. We began to get alarmed 
at last. We have complained to our landlord, but 
he turns a deaf ear and only says that there can't 
be any danger. We have asked him if the catch- 
basin didn't need cleaning, and he said it was of a 
kind that never needed cleaning ! Here we are in 
this predicament. What shall we do ? " 

A child, eight years of age, died of diphtheria, 
on January 1, at No. 606 North Clark street. This 
house is one of a block of four or five two-story 
brick houses, built a good many years ago. There 
was a perceptible odor of sewer air about the prem- 
ises, although the waste-pipes were well trapped, 
with one exception. In the room in which the 
child had slept, was found a wash-basin whose 
Avaste-pipe was traced to the soil-pipe in the water- 
closet on the floor below. The plumber, who 
should have been held criminally responsible for 
the child's death, connected the waste-pipe Avith the 
crown of the trap in the soil-pipe, thus establish- 
ing a direct communication Avith the street seAver. 
A trap in the Avaste - pipe under the wash - basin 
would have been of no account, since it would 
have been repeatedly syphoned. Tavo other chil- 


dren in the family had been afflicted with diphthe- 
ria, but they were recovering. They were kept 
in another room, and had not been so seriously 
poisoned. The construction of this waste-pipe is 
illustrated in Plate IX. This is by no means an 
uncommon defect. 

Malignant diphtheria made its appearance at 
No. 423 North Clark street, and Mr. Englehardt 
Peters lost a once bright and robust boy, eight 
years of age. The lad had been afflicted with sore 
throat for some time, but no danger was appre- 
hended until the day before the death. Another 
son, three years older was afflicted in the same 
manner^ and lay at the point of death when the 
writer called at the house. Later, this lad im- 
proved, but the physician said he might decline at 
any moment and die. Mr. and Mrs. Peters moved 
into their rooms nearly two years previous. They 
then had four children. Very soon it was noticed 
that they all became thin and pale, and grew lan- 
guid and listless in their movements. In less than 
a year the youngest, a babe, died. Three months 
afterward, the next oldest, Katie, fell a victim and 
was put to rest in the cemetery. Neither the fam- 
ily nor the physician suspected any unusual cause 
for the sickness and deaths. The family were all 
strong and healthy before moving to their present 
quarters, and had taken the utmost pains to pre- 

Plate IX. 

v — 

/ i 


J —i — '■ 


Criminal Construction. 


serve their health. When, finally, the attending 
physician, who could not account for the speedy 
and fatal action of the disease, said there must be 
something wrong about the drainage of the house, 
the family remembered that they had been greatly 
annoyed by the ' ' most horrid smells, " at times, 
which came from their sinks and water-closet. A 
health officer was sent to the place then, and he 
found the odors complained of to be from sewer- 
gas. Mr. Peters stated that the odors had become 
so obnoxious on the first floor that he was com- 
pelled to stop the pipes leading from a sink in the 
rear part of the room, and discontinue its use. 

A Frenchman, named Ducharme, had been liv- 
ing in the Beaurivage flats, on Michigan avenue, 
but moved into rooms on the third floor of No. 433 
State street, temporarily, pending a removal to 
better quarters. Soon after getting settled, his son, 
twelve years old, was attacked with diphtheria, 
and on December 19, six days later, he died. The 
boy had been employed as clerk in a store, and 
only slept at home. So far as known, the attack 
did not result from contagion. The water-closet 
on each floor, used by two families, was in an un- 
ventilated room opening into the hall, and the 
soil-pipe itself was unventilated. The one on the 
third floor was found to be in a very filthy con- 
dition. Mr. Ducharme said that the house was 


constantly full of bad odors. The catch-basins of 
the block were in the basement, and two of them 
were cleaned about the time that the boy was taken 
sick. They were in an exceedingly foul condition. 
The attending physician attributed the diphtheria 
to the sewer-gas in the building. 

The people living at No. 1,022 West Madison 
street, were called upon to pay the penalty of lack 
of knowledge about house - drainage. A youth, 
sixteen years of age, died of diphtheria on Decem- 
ber 20, after a sickness of seven days. His mother 
believed that the disease was the result of a little 
indiscretion and a superabundance of youthful 
spirits. He was engaged in a down-town establish- 
ment. His hour of rest at noon was often spent 
in out-door recreation, rather than in taking such 
food as he needed. The mother thought that he- 
took cold and that diphtheria was the result. A 
far more potent cause was found in an untrapped 
and unventilated kitchen sink waste-pipe. The 
construction of this pipe was otherwise faulty. 
The family knew nothing about any catch-basin, 
and they had been in the house since the March 
previous. It certainly had not been cleaned in 
that length of time, and probably not for years 
before, if ever. 

Edgar H. Kent, twenty years old, died on De- 
cember 28, at No. 581 State street.. He had been 


sick for nearly four weeks with quinsy, as was 
supposed, but when he became suddenly worse, 
two days before his death, the doctor said it was 
diphtheria. There were found two water-closets 
and two wash-boAvls on each floor, the latter with- 
out traps in the waste-pipes, and neither soil-pipes 
nor waste-pipes were ventilated. The water-closets 
were extremely filthy, and the soil-pipes leaking. 
Kent had been in the house only a few months. 
In one of the basements, devoted to Chinese laun- 
drying, one of the kitchen waste-pipes was found 
emptying its contents upon the ground, and a 
large cesspool had been created. No one knew 
where the catch-basins were, nor whether they had 
ever been cleaned. 

Health Commissioner DeWolf said, in an inter- 
view with the writer : "It will be a blessed thing 
for Chicago, and other cities, when every man and 
every woman asks, first of all things, about the 
drainage of the house into which he or she is to 
move, and then will not go into the building until 
it is certain that sewer-gas will be effectually shut 
out. People by the scores have come to me to ask, 
with considerable anxiety, if there could be so 
much danger attending 1 defective house-drainage 
as reported. I have made but the one answer 
only : ' The reports you have read contain not 
only facts, but not even half the truth has been 


told ! It is a subject over which you may be 
alarmed with reason. There are many sources of 
deadly suffering, but none so terrible and so re- 
lentless as sewer-gas. It is a poison as sure as 
you are living, and no atom of it gets into your 
system that does not weaken it, and hasten the 
day of disruption in your mental and physical 
structure. ' " 

The doctor said that he had tried many times 
to bring these facts before the public, but his 
efforts had been ridiculed. A portion of the press 
exerted itself to throw suspicion upon his purposes, 
and hindered him all it could. He referred to a 
report which he made in 1877, which indicated not 
only what he undertook to accomplish, but so ex- 
actly a condition of things corresponding to what 
is now revealed, that the following extracts are 
made : 

"For the five months ending February 28 last, 
there have died 1,088 persons from the so-called 
zymotic diseases, which, in popular language, 
would be understood by the expression, diseases 
induced by poisons taken into or acting upon the 
organisms in various ways. From the best data 
within my reach, I infer that not less than 5,500 
persons have been sick from these diseases to have 
produced this mortality. They are a class of ail- 
ments which are regarded by all educated medical 


men as largely preventable — not that they can be 
entirely blotted out from the ills which afflict men, 
but that, whenever or wherever epidemics of 
typhoid fever, scarlet fever, small-pox, erysipelas, 
the puerperal diseases, or cerebro-spinal menin- 
gitis, occur, these unsanitary conditions and sur- 
roundings must certainly exist, and which can, 
and ought to, be removed by human agencies. 

' ' I prepared a list, as they stood on the death 
record, of 400 dwelling-houses, and detailed an 
educated and intelligent plumber and sewer-builder 
to continue the search. He has put into my hand, 
to-day, a report of the first seventy-five examina- 
tions, and to this report I respectfully call your 
attention. It has brought to light many domestic 
nuisances which would never have been discovered 
by the ordinary methods of answering complaints, 
and is full of instruction and warning to every 
citizen. Of the seventy-five houses examined, 
forty-one were defective in their sewerage con- 
nections or arrangements, with more or less sewer- 
gas in every room. Of the forty-one, twenty- 
eight contained sinks which connected directly 
with the main sewer by a pipe, without a trap or 
obstruction of any kind to the direct return of a 
stream of gas from the sewer. Seven were unfit 
for human habitation, for the following reasons : 

"No. — ; new marble-front, three-story house ; 
H 5* 


sewer-gas very offensive, coming from southeast 
corner of dining-room, under floor, at connection 
of soil-pipe with sewer. 

' ' No. — ; bad leak from escape-pipe to lower 
water-closet ; candle extinguished if held near it. 
Upper water-closet in bad order ; basin is not 
flushed with water. 

u Nos. — and — ; new houses, occupied six 
months. The sewer-pipe passing under the houses 
is six-inch, while the soil-pipe which joins it at 
right-angle is only four-inch. The smaller is 
passed into the larger, and the cement connect- 
ing the two is worthless and crumbling out ; 
houses more or less offensive. 

"No. — ; one person died in this house, two 
months since, with typhoid fever, and another is 
now dangerously ill with the same disease, at- 
tended by Dr. Roler. I find the earth under the 
basement, or cellar, floor completely saturated 
with all the liquids usually discharged from waste 
or soil-pipes of an ordinary dwelling or boarding- 
house. I also find a waste-pipe to sink in room 
above discharging on the ground under the cellar 
floor, without any connection whatever with any 
sewer, drain, or catch-basin. 

" Nos. — and — ; new marble-front house. 
The families are alarmed, and are thankful for the 


examination ; have been more or less sick for some 
time ; gas not always observed. Houses have 
settled and disconnected pipes, which discharge 
under concrete floor of cellar. The catch-basins 
are everywhere generally filthy. 

" I do not know, " he added, ' 4 that this record 
would be more emphatic were the contemplated 
work completed, and the history of the four hun- 
dred houses given, rather than that of seventy-five. 
Whether long or brief, it is a record which does 
not point to faulty public work as the cause of the 
disease, nor to that hete noir of every Chicagoan, 
the Bridgeport odors, among which children thrive 
and mothers are merry and stout ; nor to the neces- 
sary omission of scavenger duty and street-clean- 
ing for the past four months, when every thing 
offensive thrown on to the ground or in street or 
alley has been rendered entirely inoperative by the 
frost and snow, but it does point to sham and fraud 
in private construction of dwellings and local sew- 
ers, and to the most unaccountable indifference of 
the citizens to the plainest sanitary requirements 
of their domiciles and property. The exhalations 
from foul privies, sewers and catch-basins are evils 
not largely within the control of the health officers ; 
the warfare against them must be waged, and this 
preventable invasion of disease turned back, by 
every mechanic who plans a sewer or builds a 


house, and by constant attention of every owner 
or occupant." 

At a meeting of the Sanitary Institute of Great 
Britain, lately held at Exeter, Mr. Henry C. Bur- 
dett drew attention to the cases of three new 
public buildings with which he was familiar, name- 
ly, a hospital, a convalescent institution, and a 
county lunatic asylum, in which serious ignorance 
of sanitary requirements by the architects had been 
exhibited. In the case of the hospital, it had not 
been occupied eighteen months when the health of 
the inmates pointed to defective drainage, and a 
thorough investigation was called for. At the out- 
set, it was found that there were no plans of the 
drains to be relied on. Its drains were without 
man-holes or means of inspection, and were choked, 
owing to the cisterns for flushing them never get- 
ting filled, as they had been placed too high for the 
pressure in the water-mains to command them. 
There were other defects throughout the building, 
and sewer-gas had free access at all points. The 
hospital was eventually closed for the sanitary 
defects to be remedied. In the case of the conva- 
lescent institution, which was beautifully situated 
in extensive grounds and gardens, within a year 
of its being opened there was a sharp outbreak of 
erysipelas, and the institution had to be closed. 
An examination showed that the baths, lavatories, 


and sinks opened directly into the sewers, and that 
many were untrapped. The ventilation of the 
drains was so defective that in certain winds the 
sewer-gas was driven by the ventilators into the 
building ; the drains themselves were laid up hill, 
and were full of leaks and defects. Mr. Burdett 
stated that the result of all this was that the con- 
valescents returned, not to their homes, but to the 
hospitals from which they came. In the case of 
the county lunatic asylum, which was built regard- 
less of expense, there were outbreaks of dysentery 
and erysipelas almost from its first occupation. 
Suspicion falling on the sanitary arrangements, a 
competent engineer was called in, and numerous 
faulty matters were discovered, which, being put 
right, resulted in the establishment's becoming 




Among those who have suffered from the effects 
of sewer-gas poisoning, is a gentleman of this city, 
who was prostrate the greater portion of the Sum- 
mer of 1879, and only through skillful treatment 
was restored to a comparative degree of health. 
He was asked for a faithful account of his sickness, 
its cause and treatment. It was given by his wife, 
whose constant attendance at his bedside enabled 
her to know its truth as well as, or better than, 
he ; she wrote as follows : 

" How long we lived in a foul, unhealthy atmos- 
phere, it is impossible to tell, but when it made 
itself known, the symptoms of different members 
of the family were so unlike that it would have 
seemed absurd to attribute them to a common 
cause. One suffered from headache ; another, from 
the return of an old trouble of which there had 
been no sign for years ; still another, from contin- 
ual soreness and irritation of the throat, while 
those who were not so seriously affected grew 
heavy and stupid, and found that even a slight ex- 


ertion became a weariness to the flesh. They 
waked in the morning faint and unrefreshed and 
without appetite ; if a rainy day kept the ladies -of 
the family in-doors with windows closed, headache 
followed, as a matter of course. One member of 
the family slept later than the others, and occupied 
a room adjoining the bath-room, the waste from 
the w r ash-bowl in the chamber and that from the 
water-closet having a common outlet. Although 
the wash-bowl was always kept closed, or filled 
w r ith water, much gas must have escaped through 
it. For months the occupant of that room had 
complained of feeling ' tired, ' and had waked in 
the morning with a dull headache. When the sus- 
picion which had forced itself upon us of the cause 
of the general discomfort became a certainty, 
' proved beyond question by the odor which came 
to us through the register, and surged back into 
our faces from the waste-pipes in the sleeping- 
rooms, we made desperate efforts to have the evil 
remedied. On all sides we were met with the cry : 
' A woman's notion ; women are always fancying 
something. ' Landlord and agent visited the prem- 
ises, inspected and sniffed, and declared the air as 
sweet as the breath of June roses. Then followed 
an official, who peeped daintily into the cellar, 
sniffed gently as he hurried through the chamber, 
and, having just come from an interview with the 


landlord, could find nothing out of order, except 
the feminine sense of smell, which ought not to 
be encouraged in such irregularities. At last, 
after repeated entreaties, a few traps were put 
into the waste-pipes, and one or two broken pieces 
of drain-pipe in the cellar were replaced — under 
protest, and as a sort of generous concession to 
unreasonable feminine fancy. But the sufferers 
were not all women ; indeed, they were more 
fortunate than the masculine members of the 

"At last, the dull headache and the constant 
weariness, to which were added frequent attacks 
of indigestion, made a vacation imperative, and the 
most seriously affected victim went into the coun- 
try, where it was a delight to breathe, and where 
there were no ' modern conveniences ' to encourage 
and assist the spread of various forms of malaria. 
His appetite returned, and he soon gave up tea 
and coffee, drinking nothing but milk. He had 
promised himself about two weeks of this country 
life. But before the end of that time the dormant 
poison in his system, made active in some degree, 
no doubt, by the milk he had taken so freely, be- 
gan to show itself in the form of a humor. From 
head to feet he was covered with a fine rash, whose 
itching and smarting were by no means agreeable. 
This passed off after a few days, but a new form 


of the disease appeared, attacking his eyes, which 
became so inflamed and swollen that he could 
scarcely see. During all this time he had suffered 
from pain in the bowels, which, he thought, pro- 
ceeded from indigestion ; but before the eyes Avere 
well, a third trouble was discovered, more serious 
chan either of the others. The doctors said, 
gravely : w If this proves to be an abscess which 
discharges internally, it must result fatally.' Every 
effort was made to draw the disease to the outside, 
and produce an external discharge. The means 
used were few and simple, but effective. There 
were daily draughts of citrate of magnesia to 
regulate the bowels, and outward applications of 
hot spirits of turpentine and water applied by 
flannel cloths. For several days this treatment 
was continued without any perceptible improve- 
ment on the part of the patient ; then a blister was 
substituted for the hot applications. After this 
had done its work, poultices of warm bread and 
milk were applied, which were renewed every 
three or four hours, as the turpentine had been. 
As the plastered part healed, the pain subsided, 
and the swelling, that had seemed like a ridge 
lying diagonally across the left side of the bowels, 
gradually disappeared. The sick man slowly re- 
gained his strength, and, on his return to the city, 
put himself out of further danger by renting a 


house so destitute of ' modern improvements ' that 
it has neither gas nor furnace, and waste-pipes in 
no room except the kitchen. Pure air and whole- 
some food are his medicines, yet after a year in 
which it has been the chief aim of the ' loaf-giver ' 
of the family to provide them for the household, 
the blood poison is not wholly eradicated from the 
system of this victim of sewer-gas. Had he re- 
turned to a house in which there was the least 
taint of the poison, he would, undoubtedly, have 
fallen an easy prey to the merciless destroyer. 

' ' A few days ago, a gentleman left the city to 
seek health and strength among the mountains of 
Colorado. For two years he had been fighting 
against weakness and weariness, for which there 
seemed to be no good reason. He had no organic 
disease, and in his ' holidays, ' spent away from 
home, he always improved ; but, so soon as he 
crossed his own threshold, the heavy; dull feeling 
took possession of him, and life became again a 
heavy burden. His bed-room, which was on the 
first floor, opened into the bath-room, and although 
both rooms were kept perfectly clean, and there 
was never any disagreeable odor, the air seemed 
often to have lost all its freshness. To one who 
understands the effects of sewer-gas, the reason for 
the man's ill-health is clear." 

The Commissioner of Health, in Chicago, 


recently addressed a series of questions to lead- 
ing physicians in the city, on the nature and cause 
of diphtheria. Among these was the following : 
" Is it your opinion that sewer-gas, or surface filth, 
can create the special exciting cause of diph- 
theria ? " The responses were not unanimous, but 
the majority of those addressed held that sewer- 
gas is either the "special exciting cause," or, at 
least, promotes the disease. Twenty-eight said, 
emphatically, "Yes"; seventeen others believed 
that it assisted in the development of diphtheria ; 
nineteen answered in the negative, three had no 
opinion, and one thought that it is a probable 
cause, but that there is lack of proof, while the 
balance failed to state with clearness Avhat they be- 
lieved. Of the responses, the following are quoted 
as explanatory of the positions taken : 

"It is my opinion that sewer-gas and surface 
filth can, and do, create the cause of diphtheria." 

' ' Diphtheria is a zymotic disease, the blood 
being affected by separate germs and sewer-gas. " 

" I think they can, though not often the cause." 

"Not without cooperation of atmospheric in- 
fluences of some special kind. I think sewer-gas 
is charged with a good many things it is not guilty 

' ' Medical history forces us to believe that these 
or similar agents can create it. When the terrible 


epidemic of diphtheria broke out at Kingston, N. 
H., in May, 1735, the disease had not been seen 
for over twenty-five years, neither in America nor 
Europe ; if these agents could not create it, they 
supplied the durance and vehemence." 

"Diphtheria must have an atmospheric, local 
tilth and individual condition to develop it, in my 

4 ' Only as all poisons which depress vitality 
tend to a preponderence of diphtheritic, over ordi- 
nary, anginas." 

"I can not regard them as the cause, but as 
potent factors in its development." 

"Yes ; but it may come without either." 
"Yes ; this is the undoubted cause of our great 
mortality in the Fourteenth Ward, and any relief 
would be desirable." 

"Does not create it, but will promote the 
spreadmg, as I suppose." 

"Sewer-gas and surface filth may reduce vital 
resistance and render infection possible, but neither 
the one nor the other can produce the conta- 

"No; they no doubt aggravate, but do not 
create, else it would prevail all the time in cities." 

' ' I regard the latter as creating the special ex- 
citing cause, and the former as a facile means for 
its diffusion and introduction into houses." 


"To the decomposition of any organic matter, 
whether from sewer or slop-pail." 

; I think the cause may come from animal 
matter undergoing decomposition ; when once pro- 
duced it may be propagated by contagion. " 

"It is my opinion that neither sewer-gas nor 
surface filth can create the special exciting cause 
of diphtheria. 1 ' 

"Yes, under favorable circumstances." 

"Yes ; but more commonly a predisposing 
cause, poisoning the blood and rendering the 
system especially susceptible to the development 
of the disease from slight, exciting causes, as 
colds, etc." 

' ' No ; but may be the means of communicating 
the infection, or contagious principle. " 

"No; emphatically, no! It has not been 
proved as yet. Still, I would like the sewers 
cleaned. It is a bad wind that does not blow 
good for somebody." 

"It is a specific poison, distilled from some- 
thing in nature's laboratory — ■ let us say filth. " 

' ' Not exactly create, but promote the exciting 


' ' I regard diphtheria as a filth disease, and gen- 
erated wherever this exists, in sewers, or else- 
where, sewer-gas thus conveying the poison." 

"They can not create; they predispose by 


depressing the resisting powers of the sys- 

' ' They aggravate it, but do not create it. " 

"Sewer-gas has nothing to do with diphtheria 
(and scarlatina), as I have seen plenty of it where 
no sewers exist. Surface filth offers a good breed- 
ing place for bacteria, and favors the invasion and 
spread of diphtheria." 

"I think it very doubtful about creating the 
disease from sewage, but the sewer -gas renders 
diphtheria much more dangerous." 

' ' No, not of themselves. We find in places of 
very high altitude, such as Leadville, Col., diph- 
theria appearing in epidemic form, although veg- 
etable decomposition seldom occurs." 

' ' No. But I think they may create profound 
enough constitutional impression to make the sys- 
tem more easily infected by the diphtheritic poison, 
whatever this poison may be. " 

"No. I believe it may render the system un- 
resisting to the special poison." 

" I do not. But they most certainly add malig- 
nancy and virulence to the disease when once 
started, hence cause its spread. My worst cases 
have been on the open prairies, free from any sur- 
face filth or sewer-gas, for two years past. " 

" Possibly it may. We lack proof that it does." 

"No, not to create the special exciting cause, 


but to lower the vitality, so that the exciting cause 
finds a more congenial soil. " 

' ' No, but I think they prepare the system for 
the development of the disease when the poison 
has been absorbed. " 

"No, but they are powerful predisposing 

" No. If it were so there would be much more 
diphtheria than there is. Sewer-gas and surface 
filth are always with us ; diphtheria but seldom. " 

" I do not think sewer-gas and surface filth pro- 
duce the specific disease germ of diphtheria, but 
that they greatly favor the attack and growth of 
this especial germ and increase its deleterious 
influence. " 

" It is my opinion that sewer-gas or surface filth 
can not create the special exciting cause, but 
often appears to favor the development, of diph- 
theria. " 

"Nobody knows." 

" No. It can only aggravate the disease." 

" No. Given a quantity of sewer-gas, or surface 
filth, diphtheria only arises when the special excit- 
ing cause of diphtheria has been superadded. " 

' ' Not alone. They act as predisposing causes 
only. " 

' ' I ought to say to you that I also believe in 
the contagiousness of all matter, or, in other 


words, that all products of the inflammatory pro- 
cess are capable of awaking a like inflammatory 
process when conveyed to the proper soil, under 
circumstances favorable to such propagation, and 
that the resulting process will, within certain limits, 
be proportioned to the intensity of the process 
which gives rise to the inflammatory product. This 
is my view in brief, and it follows from it that the 
agencies which are . capable of powerfully modify- 
ing the original process are those you mention, 
viz. , surface filth and sewer-gas, though I would 
be unwilling to name these as the sole cause of 
diphtheria, nor always as its necessary causes. 
Thus, I am of opinion that a man might have a 
malignant form of diphtheria in a hospital ward, 
where there was an epidemic, or erysipelas of a 
severe grade, or where hospital gangrene was in 
progress, these two disorders being frequently due 
to the causes named. And I am also of opinion 
that a man might be exposed for a long time to 
sewer-gas and surface filth, and enjoy a reasonable 
degree of health, though I certainly should not 
expect it." 

"The disease I have mentioned is, in my opin- 
ion, caused by some poison, sewer-gas maybe, our 
surface filth another, but not all filth." 

Dr. D. McVickar, a physician of many years 1 
practice in this city, said that only half of the 


truth in exposing the terrible condition of houses 
with broken sewer drains and disjointed connec- 
tions in waste-pipes, had been told. The worst 
half would probably never come to light, as fami- 
lies who have been sorely afflicted with sewer-gas 
dislike to make it known publicly that there has 
been such neglect in their houses and that they never 
had found out the leaks and stopped them ; it is 
felt to be a reproach on their habits of cleanliness, 
and they prefer to keep the truth to themselves. 
The doctor said he might spend a day in relating 
the circumstances attending sewer-gas poisoning 
among his patients. In truth, the majority of 
them were sick from no other cause than sewer- 
gas. Nothing was, on the whole, so destructive 
of all the powers and faculties of the human 
body and mind. It not only brought weak and 
disordered systems to the sick bed, but it trans- 
formed the blood into a dark stream of poison. 
Recently, he was called to the house of a wealthy 
family, and found the mother and children pros- 
trated with sickness. Their home was in one of 
the finest houses of the South Side. He told them 
plainly that sewer-gas was at the foundation of 
their ailings. An examination of the sewer-pipes 
was made, and the usual cracks in cemented joints 
were found. The family were hurriedly conveyed 
to other quarters, and soon began to recover. He 


was once summoned by a breathless messenger to 
the house of a friend on Ashland avenue, where a 
young man was said to be dying in great agony. 
He found what seemed to be at first sight a clear 
case of sporadic cholera. The patient was sinking 
rapidly, and writhing under terrible pains. In a 
short time the doctor was convinced that sewer-gas 
was the cause of the suffering. He administered 
sedatives ; it became possible to remove the patient 
to another house, and in a day or two to the country. 
The young man was soon out of danger. An ex- 
amination of the drains in the house from which 
he was removed, revealed broken joints and escap- 
ing sewer-gas. 

Prof. Walter S. Haines, of Rush Medical 
College, related an instance which would seem be- 
yond belief, if not from so reliable authority. 
During a recent Spring, a family on the West 
Side, consisting of live members, were afflicted Oy 
seAver-gas, which filled their whole house. The 
oldest of the children was a young man, eighteen 
years of age. The other two were young girls. 
The three were brought to their beds. Two physi- 
cians spent nearly two months over them, abso- 
lutely ignorant of the cause of their prostration. 
The two girls became deaf, dumb, and blind. One 
side of their bodies was paralyzed, and the unfor- 
tunate victims were barely kept alive. Besides 

I— I 




being without sight and hearing, their sensibilities 
were so deadened that they did not seem to care 
to live. The cases became alarming, and a third 
physician was summoned. He said that sewer-gas 
was responsible for the whole trouble. He trans- 
ferred the helpless patients to another house, and 
soon they began to recover, and were ultimately 
restored to their normal health. An examination 
of the house drain showed that it was broken in a 
half-dozen places, and the gas escaping. 

Plate X shows how the main drain, invariably 
placed under the house, is often broken by the un- 
equal settling of the ground, by the weight of 
walls, or because the joints are imperfect when 




Dr. Letheby, of London, found, by analysis, 
that the elements of sewer-gas are sulphureted 
hydrogen, sulphide of ammonium, carbureted hy- 
drogen, oxygen, nitrogen and carbonic acid gas. 
It contains, also, organic matter. The constituents 
are not always the same, nor do they always exist 
in the same proportion. The noxious effects of the 
gas are due to the sulphureted hydrogen, sulphide 
of ammonium, and the organic matter. These are 
always found in sewer-gas, in varying quantities, 
and it is an important fact for every one to know 
that the two gases named are among the most dan- 
gerous known to chemistry, at least of those about 
which anything is popularly known. Even when 
greatly diluted, the first is deadly poisonous to 
man and animals. Air, otherwise pure, contain- 
ing one part in two thousand of sulphureted hy- 
drogen will instantly kill birds. Air, one two- 
hundredth part of which is sulphureted hydrogen, 
will kill dogs, and a mixture of one part in two 
hundred and fifty, will end the life of a horse. 


Although it has never been practically tested, it is 
believed that air containing one per cent, of this 
dangerous gas will cause the immediate death of 
man. The danger which it brings to man's life in 
the company of those other elements with which 
it forms sewer-gas, is apparent. 

Advantage was taken of the destructive power 
of sulphureted hydrogen, some years ago, to rid 
the garden of the Luxembourg, in Paris, of the 
crows which infested it. These annoying birds 
had become so numerous that they were actually a 
terror, and were driving people from the garden. 
It was not safe to attempt to shoot them, since 
there was a possibility of doing injury to the peo- 
ple themselves. The device was adopted of plac- 
ing- in the hands of the gardeners a small bag con- 
taming sulphureted hydrogen, to which was 
attached a tube that could be thrust into the foli- 
age of a tree, and into the midst of a flock of the 
birds, without disturbing them. The gas was then 
allowed to escape, when the crows immediately 
fell to the ground lifeless. The proceeding was so 
noiseless a one, that it was easily carried on till all 
were killed and the garden freed. 

This extremely poisonous gas may be produced 
by acid-liquids turned into drains. It fre- 
quently seems to become concentrated, and causes 
death quite unexpectedly. Men have dropped 


dead Avhile at work in the sewers of London, ap- 
parently from breathing it, and in some instances 
it has found its way into bed-rooms through waste- 
pipes, not sufficiently diluted, and has caused in- 
stant death. If in a comparatively pure state, its 
effects are so exceedingly dangerous, in small 
quantities, it must, under other circumstances, be 
considered capable of doing much harm. Its 
known effects are, when present in air which is 
breathed, headache, vomiting, drowsiness, etc. This 
is observable in the rooms of the chemist where, 
for experiment or otherwise, the noxious gas is 
generated. A simple trace of it in the air will 
often produce a debilitated condition resembling 
typhoid fever. In chemical analysis the operator 
and those around him suffer frequently from 
chronic poisoning of the blood by it ; it is, also, 
the cause of typhoid or malarial fevers. 

The effects of sulphide of ammonium on the 
system are similar to those of the first-named gas. 
A good many experiments have been made to 
determine the manner in , which sulphureted hy- 
drogen and sulphide of ammonium produce their 
noxious influences. The results have been inter- 
esting, and throw much light on sewer-gas poison- 
ing. It is a well-known fact that the red corpuscles 
of the blood are its most important constituents. 
Their chief office is to take up oxygen in the 


lungs, and convey it to all parts of the body. The 
most important function of the body, probably, is 
the carrying power of these corpuscles. The body 
will do without food or drink for a number of 
days, but if this function is interfered with, even 
for a few minutes, death ensues. This is illus- 
trated in suffocation by drowning, or otherwise. 
No person is in a condition of health unless the 
red corpuscles perform their duty properly and 
efficiently. Chemical research has shown that the 
active principle of the red corpuscles is a very in- 
teresting compound to which the name of hemo- 
globin has been given. In plainer terms, this 
compound is a portion of the substance of the red 
corpuscles, and upon this the oxygen-carrying 
power of the corpuscles depends. Hence, any- 
thing which interferes with this hemoglobin inter- 
feres with the oxygenation of the system. 

Experiments on the blood of animals have 
shown that sulphureted hydrogen and sulphide of 
ammonium have a very destructive influence on 
the hemoglobin of the red corpuscles. Whenever 
they are brought into contact with these corpuscles 
each is robbed of its oxygen, and if the action 
continues the gases will utterly destroy the hemo- 
globin and reduce the corpuscles to a condition 
which renders them worse than worthless. The 

hemoglobin is not only deprived of its oxygen- 


carrying power, but it is deadened, and becomes 
extraneous and effete matter in the blood. The 
result is apparent. The body can not live for an 
instant without oxygen. It is the stimulus which 
supports vitality. Shut off the oxygen, and death 
follows at once ; cut off a portion of the supply, 
and some derangement, even though not immedi- 
ately fatal, must ensue. The condition of the 
blood of animals which have been poisoned by 
these gases, shows the action to be that given 
above. The blood is black and thick like the dead 
blood which has flowed from a wound. 

From this destructive influence upon the red 
corpuscles, it may be easily understood what the 
nature of the danger is which persons, who are ex- 
posed to sewer-gas, must encounter, and how they 
may be injured by it. The peculiar, marked 
anemia, or blood-poisoning, of those who have 
suffered from sewer-gas poisoning, is explained by 
these facts. There still seems to be an influence 
in sewer-gas derived from the organic constituents, 
which, also, not infrequently, modifies the action 
of the other two gases. There is no doubt that 
the organic elements are as poisonous, or deleteri- 
ous, as the decaying particles of animal or vege- 
table matter wherever found, for that is % all that 
they are., 

In many diseases the poison of the malady 


seems to be eliminated largely by the bowels, and 
the fecal discharges evolve gases, which are capa- 
ble of propagating disease. This is particularly 
true of typhoid fever, and does not fail in the case 
of cholera, and possibly of cholera morbus, which 
is held by many to be cholera in an incipient stage, 
though there is reason to doubt it. Many leading 
scientists discredit the germ theory of the spread 
of disease. They believe that chemical gases gen- 
erated by disease in one organism may produce a 
ferment, so to speak, in another, and the result is 
the reproduction of the same disease. It is known 
that strychnine produces a certain effect on the 
blood, as the woorara used by the South American 
Indians in poisoning their arrows does, and Avhich 
results in death. There are no germs of disease 
in either case. There are no specific disease germs 
in the decomposing flesh of a corpse, and yet a 
few particles of the putrid flesh, introduced by 
accident into the blood, as a student works in the 
dissecting-room, will poison the system, and may 
produce death. So the poisonous particles which 
are given off by a diseased person may float through 
the sewer and on the wings of its gas be trans- 
mitted to the living and sleeping apartments of any 
family whose house has defective drainage, and 
when in contact with blood already deteriorated by 
sewer-gas, cause a ferment, or disease, in the sys- 


tem, the whole action being precisely analogous to 
that of yeast. Small-pox may be transmitted in 
this manner from the discharge of the pustules. 
Yellow fever may be propagated by fecal, vomital 
and urinal discharges; but in this case, it seems 
that the poison itself must come in direct contact 
with the person. The noxious gases of the sewer 
may be oxydized, and consequently destroyed. 
All that is necessary is to give them the benefit of 
plenty of pure air. 

To summarize : The poisonous elements of sew- 
er-gas are sulphureted hydrogen, sulphide of 
ammonium and organic matter. The first is a 
deadly poison, and in a sufficient quantity its fatal 
effects are immediate. In small quantities it weak- 
ens the vitality of the system, by counteracting the 
oxygen-carrying power of the blood. It is always 
present in sewer-gas, and a very small amount will 
produce, or pave the way to, disease. The 
noxious gases which by fermentation reproduce 
the disease from which they originated, are borne 
hither and thither by sewer-gas through defective 
drains and into houses in distant parts of a city. 

The writer had an interview with a leading phy- 
sician of Chicago, who has given the subject of 
house-drainage and sewer-gas poisoning careful and 
prolonged study. This gentleman had seen his 
family afflicted with some strange malady. In 


spite of his utmost exertions, each member grew 
paler and weaker, and he soon realized that they 
were dying, inch by inch, before his eyes. His 
own health was seriously impaired, and the clay 
seemed near at hand when the family circle would 
be broken by the snapping of some link. Investi- 
gation satisfied him that they all were being poi- 
soned by sewer-gas. He was the first to introduce 
a system of drainage which has since proved to be 
an enemy to sewer -gas. His family were soon 
well and they have remained so. ' ' One very seri- 
ous danger," the doctor said, "is in the means 
which sewers afford for the spread of contagious 
diseases. The germs, or poison, of scarlet fever 
appear time and again where the disease is not 
expected. I believe they are often carried down 
the drains of houses to the sewers, in water which 
has bathed the bodies of the sick, or washed their 
clothes, and are conveyed to a distant part of the 
city to be again forced back by the gas which is 
generated in the sewers into other houses. I have 
no doubt that many a contagious disease is spread 
over the city in just that way. But that is only 
one of the necessary evils attending the presence 
of sewers in a city. The house drains are more to 
be feared than the sewers themselves. They are 
laid loosely on sand, and are easily broken ; ordi- 
narily, in fact almost universally, they are noth- 


ing but tiles badly jointed, and often broken when 
put into position, or broken by the settling of the 
house. With these defects, not only are the con- 
tents of the waste-pipes let loose to be absorbed by 
the earth, but also the poisonous gas may escape 
to penetrate through the house in all its rooms. 
There is this difference, too, between the drain and 
the sewer : In the latter the gas is oxydized to a 
great extent by. its contact with pure air, and ren- 
dered harmless. The gas in the drain is by far the 
most dangerous, and its most natural escape is 
through a house. The pipes in the house are 
always warm and sometimes heated ; the drains 
are cold, and whenever there is opportunity for a 
current, it will be up and backward, carrying the 
poison with it. 

' ' Sewer - malaria — for that is what it should be 
termed — does not kill people outright, but it is 
the source of many diseases which themselves 
destroy life. I have no doubt that tens of thous- 
ands have lost their lives by it, and ten times as 
many have been robbed of their usefulness. Among 
the acute diseases which it will generate is typho- 
malarial fever. The chills and fever of the East- 
ern States are precisely like this. I do not know 
of any symptoms which marsh and swamp malaria 
will produce, which may not be as well produced 
by sewer-malaria. I have had a patient direct from 


Texas, chattering, shivering and burning with chills 
and fever, whose case has been duplicated in 

' ' Sewer-malaria has the singular property of 
increasing the friction of the blood in the blood- 
vessels ; hence it may give rise to any disease of a 
congestive nature. It will cause a rush of blood 
to and a continued pressure in the head. It gives a 
sense of weariness and drowsiness which causes 
people to feel more tired when they rise in the 
morning, than when they retired at night. It de- 
bilitates the system, and hastens men and women 
to premature graves. Business men go home from 
their labors tired out Avith hard work, as they 
believe, when in reality they are the victims of 
sewer-malaria. Men of business break down early 
in life, and it is said that excessive application has 
killed them ; but the truth is that sewer-malaria 
is responsible. 

" Congestion of any organ may arise from the 
breathing of so-called sewer-gas. It will cause dis- 
eases of the heart, and particularly palpitation. I 
know of very many in this city who are suffering 
from heart disease, because they have breathed so 
much sewer-gas. It exhibits its power in causing 
eruptions of the skin. It is responsible for the bad 
complexions which women in this city have. Who 
has not noticed the difference between the sallow 


and faded complexions of young and middle - aged 
women and the comparatively ruddy and healthy 
look which the faces of men have, as they walk 
along the street or ride in the cars ? The reason 
is, that the women are shut up in houses, and they 
feed upon the malaria which is almost continually 
about them, while their husbands and brothers are 
out in the fresh and purer air. 

"The high arterial pressure which is constantly 
exerted by reason of this deadly element may pro- 
duce Bright's disease of the kidneys. It affects 
children most in causing congestion of the brain, 
and palpitation of the heart, by its absorption into 
the blood. It makes children puny and dull ; it 
renders them susceptible to any disease. It is a 
direct cause of diarrhoea and other disarrange- 
ments of the stomach. Sewer-gas has a peculiar 
effect upon the kidneys. It possesses an unex- 
plainable property of changing the urine from day 
to day, not only in color, but consistency. I have 
noticed this in patients who have come to me for 
treatment, and traced the disorders to the breath- 
ing of sewer-gas. The blood becomes charged 
with the poison, and the effort of nature to carry 
it away is indicated by the overstrained action of 
the kidneys and the substance which is thrown out 
of them." 

In addition to this alarming category of the 


diseases which are traced to sewer-gas as their 
cause, the doctor said that its effects were not tem- 
porary, but rather permanent. A man's system 
would carry the malaria about with him for years, 
and in some cases it would fairly defy all efforts to 
drive it out. He had known instances of this kind, 
even when the victim had fled from the presence 
of the poison, and used every means to eliminate 
it from his system. 

The system acquires a tolerance of the poison 
and will not notice it in time. It will affect those 
most who have been accustomed to breathe the 
pure air of the country, or who live in houses that 
have no sewer connections. When strangers come 
to the city and suffer a temporary sickness, or are 
afflicted with indisposition, it is usually attributed 
to a change of diet, or to the water drank. The 
real cause is the sewer-gas which they breathe. 
To it should be charged the prevalence of catarrh 
in this city. It was simply absurd for people to 
talk about being unable to live on the lake shore 
because the winds aggravate their catarrhal diffi- 
culties. Rather, this was the reason why they can 
not live on the lake shore : Near the mouths 
of the sewers any undue pressure from the lake, 
or by strong winds, is first felt. The gas rushes 
out into these houses first, and in greater quanti- 
ties than into any two miles west of the lake. 
K 7 


"'Set that down, then," he said, "as an important 
fact that the lake breezes have no influence on 
catarrh except to benefit it. 

' ' I believe, and know, " the doctor continued, 
' ' that a system of drainage can be provided which 
will reduce the dangers spoken of to a minimum. 
Remember that the evil is confined mainly, almost 
wholly, to the drainage which is located under the 
house, and to the plumbing within it As things 
are now, every house, or block of houses, which 
is supplied with tile drainage, stands over an elon- 
gated cesspool. I hold that it is an impossibility 
for tiles to be so united that a safe joint can be 
made. They will spread more filth under a house 
than they will conduct into the sewer. A drain 
should be, in every respect, as well constructed, 
and of as lasting material, as a gas-pipe. There 
should be no possibility of breakage, or leaking, 
and the air-tight joints should allow ho poisonous 
gas to escape. A system of drainage can never 
be perfect until it provides ventilation as well. 
Such a system can be constructed and used. I 
know it, for I have one now in my house. While 
myself and my family were previously poisoned 
by, and sick with, sewer-gas, we are now well. 

"I most firmly believe that sewer-gas is far 
more reaching in its deadly influences and effects 
than to kill individuals and households. I believe 


that it has, and will, conquer cities. So sure as 
there is a future, this city is doomed to perish at 
the breath of this relentless enemy, sewer-malaria. 
It will be centuries hence, possibly, but the time 
is indefinitely long or short, as means are provided 
to control sewer-gas. As things are to-day, the 
soil on which Chicago rests is becoming very 
rapidly impregnated with it. Through poor and 
defective drains it is forced into the earth, and it 
will stay there for ages. A house will draw upon 
the stock thus stored away, for a distance of 
twenty feet. Let the soil be full of it, and im- 
agine what must result ! Many reasons have been 
advanced for the decay of ancient cities. 1 believe 
it will yet be shown that they perished of sewer- 
malaria, the very same that is so troubling us to- 
day. Isn't it strange that cities surrounded with 
all that man can acquire . and invent to continue 
their prosperity, should suddenly cease to advance, 
and then begin to go backward ? Is it not plaus- 
ible, is it not likely, that the decay dated from the 
time when the earth on which they stood became 
stagnant with sewage ? I believe that this is true, 
else why is it that a curse has seemed to hang over 
the sites of once prosperous cities, and it has been 
impossible to restore them even to a shadow of 
their greatness ? " 

Dr. A. De Verona, of Brooklyn, N. Y., says : 


" It is not my aim to give any exact statement of 
the total influence which sewer emanations exert 
upon health, for, as a general thing, it is only so 
far as diseases kill that their effect can be repre- 
sented in numbers. Of the incalculable amount 
of physical suffering, the disablement which they 
occasion, the sorrows, the, anxieties, the darkening 
of life, the strained means of subsistance, the des- 
titution and pauperism which often attend, or 
follow, suffering, death statistics and health-board 
reports, to which alone I can refer, testify only by 
suggestion. However, what we have said is suffi- 
cient to show that, of the death-rates which we 
register each year, fully one-half are of the zymotic 
order, and of these the great majority are due to 
the effects of bad drainage. # . * * Very 
small amounts of sewer-gas may develop fatal ail- 
ments on the one hand, and, on the other, large 
amounts may produce but slight derangements ; 
and, above all, the poison once implanted in a 
human being is capable of reproducing itself ad 
infinitum. • * * * Note, now, the diseases 
produced by the so-called sewer-gases. They are 
always of the infectious kind. One case may be 
the parent of a thousand. The first victim has 
taken the disease from the sewage vapor through 
the mouth, nose or eyes, or the blood-vessels may 
absorb it from the surface of any open wound or 


ulcer ; but the second victim need have nothing to 
do with the sewage vapor ; he may never have 
been near it ; he may take it directly from the first 
victim — from his breath, or his secretions. Does 
it not seem as though something had passed with 
the sewage vapor into the first victim, which had 
there multiplied and propagated its kind, and that 
its offspring had passed from the first to the second, 
where the same phenomena had been developed, 
with the same capability of reproduction ? 

"We noted that sewage, in addition to its 
organic matter and its living things, is largely com- 
posed of water ; that water is constantly passing 
into a state of vapor. We see, therefore, that, as 
it liberates its one and a half cubic inches of putrid 
gases per gallon per hour, it gives to the air 
around it the living germs, the humidity they 
need to live in, and the food they need to thrive 




Health Commissioner DeWolf was asked if the 
public could not be given some practical infor- 
mation about the use of disinfectants. If people 
would not, or could not, keep their surroundings 
clean, might they not partially counteract the mala- 
rial and contagious influences of the filth about 
them, especially of that in drains and sewers ? The 
Commissioner thought this practicable ; but he 
wished that they could be divested of the idea 
that it was the duty of the health department to be 
at hand whenever sickness in the neighborhood 
occurred, and throw a mantle of undefined protec- 
tion about their homes. A health department 
could not be expected to disinfect every house in 
the city, and then keep up the disinfection every 
time a contagious fever was reported. The people 
themselves could do this work as well, ordinarily, 
but they might call upon the department in case 
of extremity. 

' ' But the people generally do not know what 
disinfection is or how and when to make use of it." 


"Very well, then let me make the assertion 
easily understood, that disinfection is necessary at 
all times, and that the disinfectant most easily 
obtained and applied is fresh air. With this best 
of all remedial and hygienic agencies, I would 
keep all houses and rooms constantly supplied. 
The germs of disease are floated hither and thither 
and fed by an impure atmosphere. In pure air 
they are destroyed, or, at least, lie dormant. If 
people were surrounded always by pure air, sick- 
ness would be reduced to a minimum. To be sure, 
this involves a constant watchfulness over sur- 
roundings and a determined effort to remove the 
causes of impurities in the atmosphere. Since 
this duty is not observed, artificial means for 
destroying the germs of disease must be substi- 
tuted. It is a very common error on the part of 
people, to suppose that the production of an odor 
is securing disinfection ; " and the doctor proceed- 
ed to relate a circumstance which came to his 
notice unsolicited, and which illustrates how wide- 
spread such a belief is even among intelligent med- 
ical men. A physician of good standing, and who 
had "practiced medicine " for twenty-five years in 
Chicago, asked the Commissioner's permission to 
remove a card from a certain house, which indicated 
scarlet fever within. Said the medicine man : "I 
consider the case practically cured, and I have 


seen to it that the house has been thoroughly disin- 
fected. " 

" What have you done to disinfect ? " asked the 
Health Commissioner. 

" Why, I have used the same means that I have 
for the past twenty years — burned coffee and vin- 
egar in all of the rooms 1 " 

The Commissioner had an indistinct impression 
that men sometimes chewed coffee after imbibing 
pretty freely of whisky ; but he had no informa- 
tion that they were kept sober thereby ; so the 
smoke of burnt coffee would be about as effectual 
in keeping women and children healthy. 

"Aerial disinfection, as generally practiced," 
said the Commissioner, " is a delusion. To expose 
a little chloride of lime in a saucer, is not disinfect- 
ing a room. Sprinkling a little carbolic acid on 
clothing, is not effectually destroying the germs of 
contagion. The germ theory of the spread of 
disease brings us face to face with the fact that all 
danger from contagion is removed only when a 
house, a room, bedding, clothes, and the air itself 
are subjected to a treatment which would destroy 
any form of life, animal or vegetable, in human 
or parasitic form. The breath of a sick person 
may escape through an open window and be the 
means of conveying the seeds of a contagious dis- 
ease to some neighbor or passer-by. Every scrap 


of clothing, in a sick-room, and the walls them- 
selves, are impregnated with the death - dealing 
germs, and nothing, but a treatment powerful 
enough to destroy all life is sufficient to remove 
the danger. 

"Very much can be done to check the spread 
of these germs, if not to destroy them. The 
Health department uses three kinds of disinfect- 
ants, and all of these are within the reach of every 
citizen. One consists of a solution of iron and 
carbolic acid, in water, in the proportions of five 
parts of carbolic acid, twenty parts of sulphate of 
iron, and seventy-five parts of water. The car- 
bolic acid should be ninety-five per cent, purity. 
This is good for use in privies, gutters, and where 
there is likely to be collected decaying garbage. 
Another kind is a solution of mineral salts and 
contains, principally, chloride of zinc and nitrate 
of lead. This is manufactured in this city, and is 
used by the United States Government for disin- 
fecting purposes in the yellow fever districts of 
the South. It is very cheap, costing not more than 
$2.50 or $3.00 a barrel. It is stronger than the 
first article, and is to be used in more extreme 
cases. Still again, the Health department uses 
what is known as Crane's chloridium. It is a solu- 
tion of mineral salts, and is very good. Complete 
disinfection is accomplished by the use of sulphur- 


ous acid gas. It is best applied in the following 
manner: Infected clothing, carpets, etc., are hung 
on lines stretched across the room. The room is 
then very carefully sealed up by pasting strips of 
paper over all the cracks which can be found about 
the windows and doors. The last door is, of 
course, sealed on the outside after the final exit is 
made from the room. In the center of the floor 
is placed a kettle containing brimstone, which is 
moistened with alcohol and set on fire. The fumes 
from the sulphur penetrate every crack in the 
room, and even the brick or stone walls. The 
room is left closed for about eight hours. No 
germs of disease will remain. This last process 
should always be applied in extreme cases, and 
then the Health department stands ready to con- 
duct it.' 1 

' ' When and how shall the more available dis- 
infectants be employed ? Please give some direc- 
tions that any person can follow.' 1 

"I would advise every householder to keep 
stored in his basement or cellar a barrel, small or 
large, of the first solution I mentioned — carbolic 
acid, sulphate of iron and water, in the proportions 
of five, twenty and seventy-five parts. Let him 
from time to time, as the unpleasant odors ma}^ 
demand, fill an ordinary sprinkling-pot and sprinkle 
yards, gutters and privies freely with it, and pour 


it into drains. He may use carbolic acid and 
water in the proportion of one to ten respectively, 
which will be efficient. Here I might advise 
caution against the use of coal tar. It ordinarily 
contains but five to fifteen per cent, of carbolic 
acid, and often but a half of one per cent. Its dis- 
infecting properties are thus seen to be very slight. 

' ' Pulverized charcoal is an excellent absorbent 
of unpleasant odors, and will do much good ser- 
vice if kept sprinkled in gutters and back yards. 
It is inexpensive, costing but twenty or thirty 
cents a barrel. Freshly slacked lime is also very 
good for use in the same way. It should not be 
forgotten that the destruction of an unpleasant 
smell is not disinfection in the correct sense of the 
term. If scarlet fever, diphtheria, or kindred dis- 
eases, breaks out in a neighborhood, let the people 
see to it, first, that they supply themselves with as 
much fresh air as possible, and then disinfect their 
premises thoroughly. On e very-day occasions, let 
them use lime and charcoal freely. It may 
strengthen their confidence in these articles to 
know that the Health department will use six 
hundred tons during the present season." 

A leading chemist was asked as to the effect of 
disinfectants on sewer-gas. He said : "If sup- 
plied in sufficient quantity they will destroy sul- 
phureted hydrogen and sulphide of ammonium, 


but the amount must be enormous. All that a 
single family can do toward destroying the power 
of these gases is like emptying a cup of water into 
Lake Michigan. Practically, there is little use in 
the attempt to disinfect a single house. If every 
family in the city would agree to do the same 
thing, disinfecting might amount to something. 
As it is, disinfectants have only an effect upon the 
drains of a particular house, and end there, and 
then the amount applied must be very great." 
The gentleman added that the best disinfect- 
ants were chloride of lime, sulphate of iron, and 
sulphate of copper. He had little faith in carbolic 
acid. It was little more than a deodorizer. 

Prof. Chandler, President of the New York 
Board of Health, says : ' ' Some persons have 
great faith in disinfectants ; they buy copperas, 
kill the odor, and think they have done all that is 
required. Disinfectants are useful only to prevent 
the spread of diseased air or matter ; for this pur- 
pose they should be used freely in sick-rooms, but 
for counteracting the effects of sewer-gas they are 
useless. The use of these modern abominations, 
which pretend to kill the germs of disease, patent 
disinfecting machines, water-closet purifiers, and 
so forth, is pernicious. The man who uses them 
virtually confesses that his house is unclean, and 
that the bad odors need to be hidden or perfumed." 


The conclusion is, that disinfection, as ordina- 
rily practiced, can not be relied on to rob sewer-gas 
of its danger. While there is a possibility, and even 
a probability, that the germs, or poison, of disease 
may be destroyed by chloride of zinc, there still re- 
mains a reasonable and important objection to rely- 
ing upon such a method of dealing with sewer-gas. 
It is like leaving the doors and windows of one's 
house open at night and depending upon the pos- 
sibility of shooting a burglar who may enter to 
steal. It is like swallowing a poison and follow- 
ing it with an antidote. If a man sleeps Avith one 
eye open, and is a good shot, in the one case, and 
knows positively what will neutralize his poison in 
the other, he may snap his fingers at burglars and 
take poison with impunity. It is likely, however, 
that most people would not care to incur risks in 
either case. "Shut out the burglar," and "keep 
the poison at arm's length," would strike most 
people as being the safer advice to follow. Sewer- 
gas may and should be let loose in the out-door air, 
and not allowed to generate in the house, nor come 
back to the rooms through soil, or sewer, pipes. 
To bring a sweet-smelling disinfectant, or anti- 
septic, into a water-closet, or sick-room, gives a 
sense of security which so long as sewer-gas may 
enter, is often false. 




It would require a long chapter in which to 
enumerate all the defects in house drainage. As 
drains exist to-day, there is no section, no joint, 
no connection, no trap, no pipe, no part, which is 
not defective. Not all the defects may be found 
in the drains of a single house, but what one lacks 
another will supply. It is no exaggeration to say 
that nine-tenths of the houses of this city, which 
are connected with the sewers, are unfit to live in 
because of defects in their drainage. A sanitary 
engineer, whose investigations were made in East- 
ern cities, says : "I have never completed any 
examination without discovering serious sanitary 
defects — not merely such errors of arrangement 
as were universal until a short time ago, but 
actual, palpable bad condition, which the owner 
and his plumber at once acknowledged as of a 
grave character. Leaks in drains under the cellar 
floor, or in or near the foundation ; lead waste- 
pipes eaten through by rats, and spilling their flow 
under the house ; lead pipes perforated by corro- 

Plate XL 

Putty Joints. 


sion ; imperfect joints, leaking drain air within 
the partitions ; the accumulation of dirty slop- 
pings under the bench of the water-closets, and 
even untrapped connection between some room 
and the soil-pipe, or the direct pollution of the air 
over the tank through its overflow pipe — these 
are most common faults, and some one of them I 
have found to exist wherever I have looked for 
them in a first-class house, where it was naturally 
supposed that the most perfect conditions pre- 

There is nothing unusual in this ; the same 
thing may be said of any city in which there* are 
public sewers. The condition of house drainage 
as it is may be appreciated by studying Plate I, 
which represents no defects that the author of this 
book has not seen in houses of Chicago. Many 
of them have been referred to separately, in pre- 
vious chapters, but it is well to take a compre- 
hensive look at them again. It matters not that a 
man may have secured the best material and the 
most skillful workmanship, and given the con- 
struction of the drainage in his house his personal 
supervision ; he may have selected the best- known 
appliances for shutting out sewer-gas, and yet, if 
he has used tile drains, cement, lead-calked, or 
putty-jointed, iron soil-pipes, or lead soil-pipes, 

the best-known traps, pan, or hopper, water-closets, 
L 7* 


and unventilated catch-basins, he is as certain to 
have a house contaminated by sewer-gas as that he 
has a house. Drains and house walls will not set- 
tle equally, and there may be breaks or disconnec- 
tions in the former in consequence. Clay tile 
drains are more or less porous, and will certainly 
leak in time. It makes no difference if they are 
laid in cement ; cement itself will yield to the cor- 
rosion of the sewage, or be cracked by the action 
of the atmosphere if above ground, and by the 
ground-air if below it. Cemented joints, then, 
can not be made permanently secure. The un- 
equal settling of house Avails and drains will affect 
the connections of soil-pipes and drains, however 
Avell these connections may have been made. Traps 
are only a pretense of protection, and often there 
are no traps at all. It matters not that the street 
sewer may be ventilated ; sewer-gas will be gener- 
ated from the deposits in the drains themselves. 
The catch-basin, as heretofore constructed, will 
leak, become foul and over-run, and generate a gas 
a thousand times more dangerous than that from 
the sewer, because more concentrated. There are 
other serious faults, but certainly these are enough 
to startle the most conservative. The arrows in 
the illustration indicate the presence and course of 
sewer-gas. A soil under the house, soaked with 
sewage leaking from broken or disconnected 


drains, or from a poorly constructed catch-basin, 
is also shown. The "save-all" tray is frequently 
placed under bath-tubs, wash-basins, and water- 
closets to catch all water which may overflow. 
Too often the plumber conducts the outlet of this 
tray to a soil-pipe, and thus establishes an open 
communication with the interior of the drains, or 
the sewer itself. * 

The following note, received by the writer, led 
to some interesting revelations : "I can refer you 
to a job at the corner of Thirty-first street and Cot- 
tage Grove avenue where there are ten stores with 
tenements above, where you will find the worst job 
of sewer-work that was ever done in this town. I 
have a brother living in the house, and he tells me 
the sewer men are there now overhauling the 
whole job." 

The place was immediately visited. The block 
referred to presented a very attractive exterior. It 
was of brick, three stories high, and had been 
built four years. The locality was a good one, 
both for business purposes and for homes, so that 
during most of the time the owner had not lacked 
tenants ; yet their stay with him was not of a per- 
manent nature by any means, as the stench which 
was always in the house had kept them continually 
coming and going. When the building was con- 
structed, the drain-layer completed his work under 


one house, by "turning up" the last section of the 
main drain at a point where he believed a soil-pipe 
would connect with it. Then came the plumber. 
He thrust the soil-pipe through the floor about two 
inches, and departed. Later, some one seemed to 
have thought it desirable that the drain and soil- 
pipe, which were at least two feet apart, should be 
connected. But the two were not so situated with 
reference to one another that a single section of 
drain tile could be used to join them. What did 
the workman of an inventive turn of mind do ? 
He pecked an irregular hole in the drain (see Plate 
XII), thrust into it his connecting pipe, spread a 
little plaster — not cement — over the hole, braced 
his pipe up with a stick, covered the top of the 
unused, upturned drain with an oyster can, and 
walked off. For four succeeding years sewer-gas 
was drawn out of these openings by the heat ot 
the house. 

The houses in the block extended from Nos. 387 to 
405, inclusive, on Cottage Grove avenue. Each one 
was examined, and the defects in the work noted. 
None of the so-called joints between soil-pipes 
and drains seemed to have been properly made. 
At one number the soil and waste from some upper 
closet was dripping from a broken soil-pipe ; a por- 
tion went the proper way into the drain, while the 
rest dropped outside and ran off on the ground. 


(See Plates I and X.) The last section of the 
drain tile had been leaned against the wall of the 
cellar at an angle of about forty-five degrees, and 
projected a few inches above the ground. In this 
position the plumber found it. His own pipe was 
not long enough to reach into the drain. He used 
a little plaster in attempting to make a connection, 
and that was all. There was no trap between any 
house and the street sewer, and none of the defect- 
ive joints had been repaired during the four years 
that the block had been occupied. The first floor 
at No. 387 was used as a furniture store. When 
there was a high wind from the lake, and the pres- 
sure in the sewer became great, the proprietor 
said that he was unable to endure the smells. His 
customers had been driven away, one by one, until 
he was afraid he would lose them all. At one 
number, a druggist said that he had tried to ' ' get 
ahead " of the obnoxious odors, by the use of 
chemicals, but all the compounds that he could set 
to vaporizing were of no avail. Plaster had been 
used to connect soil-pipe and drain there, but it 
had cracked and fallen away. 

Plate XII illustrates the practice of breaking a 
hole into a drain to insert a soil-pipe or waste-pipe ; 
it also shows how drains are made of defective tile — 
''seconds," as they are called in England. The sec- 
tions A, A, are broken at the flange, and B, B, at the 


smaller end. F, F, F, show how pipes, which are 
misshapen, spoiled in the baking, look. They are ir- 
regularly oval instead of round. The difficulty of 
making good connections between the ends of such 
pipes is apparent. C has a fissured surface, and D 
has been broken and pieced together. ' ' Seconds " 
are used when a drain-layer has taken a job at 
such low figures that he can not afford to put in 
new tile. The illustration also shows that the 
drain does not connect with the sewer, a section of 
pipe having been left entirely out, either to save 
expense, or because the work of laying it was 

In nearly every modern - improved residence 
may be found a bath - room located on the second 
floor, directly over the parlor. In this there are a 
pan water-closet, a bath-tub, and usually a wash- 
bowl. Adjoining this room are the front and rear 
chambers and in them are located wash-bowls 
placed in niches. The waste-pipe from this system 
of plumbing work is branched into the water- 
closet trap, and in hundreds of cases these branches 
are run into traps above the water line. (See Plate 
I.) When the water-closet is being used, the odor 
from the soil passes up into the bath-room and 
adjoining chambers. In many instances the soil is 
allowed to remain in the trap for hours, giving 
forth the most unwholesome gases. The soil-pipe 




from the water-closet trap runs down to the sewer 
either in the hall or folding-door partition, and is 
supposed to be properly fastened to studding. 
" Often I have found soil-pipes not secured at all," 
said a plumber ; ' ' and, as a result, the pipe sags 
down from its own weight, loosening the joints 
and breaking the sewer elbow at the bottom, thus 
leaving openings in the soil-pipe large enough to 
allow a current of sewer-gas to escape sufficiently 
strong to extinguish a lighted candle. These are 
instances where buildings settle to such an extent 
that soil-pipes get loosened where they enter the 
sewer, leaving an air opening. I often notice in 
bath-rooms that no lining of lead (Save-all tray — 
see Plates I and II) is placed beneath the water- 
closet, so when a leak or an overflow takes place 
the parlor ceiling and surrounding woodwork get 
saturated with soil and urinal matter. I frequently 
find what might be called, at a glance, a good job 
of plumbing : the closets are lined underneath, 
and from this lead lining there is supposed to be a 
waste-pipe running down beneath the basement 
floor ; but, upon examination, these waste-pipes 
abruptly end about four inches below the lining, 
and there are stopped up. After a little time a 
leak may take place, but not enough to fill the lead 
lining which is turned up sink-like. This matter 
remains stagnant for weeks, and finally it over- 


flows. The bath-tubs and water-closets are ceiled 
around with matched boards, and are nailed and 
screwed together so firmly that the occupant, or 
owner, rarely sees the inside of these death-br ced- 
ing apartments." 

The water-closet in common use is the crown- 
ing nuisance. Looked at from the outside it seems 
harmless enough, and, when used by people who 
have some respect for cleanliness, it need show no 
signs of filth. But, like the soil-pipe and the 
waste-pipes, it is the source of hidden dangers, of 
which there is universal ignorance. A sectional 
view of the pan-closet — more used than any other 
— given in Plate XIII, will assist in understanding 
its construction. All that can be seen from above 
is the pan, which holds a cup of water, supposed 
to form a seal at the bottom of the earthen bowl, 
thus preventing the return of any offensive gas. 
When the closet is used, and the pan is tipped one 
side by the handle which extends up above the 
seat, its contents are dropped — where ? Not into 
the sewer, as many undoubtedly fondly imagine, 
but into a cesspool just under the closet and out 
of sight — the trap. The pan flies back to its 
original position, and fills with water. What fol- 
lows ? The excrementitious matter in the trap 
cesspool evolves an offensive and clangerous gas, 
which is held in the container until some one pro- 

Plate XIII. 

The Pan Closet. 


vides it with a means of escape when the closet is 
next used and the pan lowered. The puff of foul 
gas which offends all who use water-closets is 
familiar enough. In the illustration there is an at- 
tempt, also, to show how the filth which is suddenly 
dropped from the pan splashes against and clings 
to the sides of the container. This will remain to 
give off its exhalations long after the cesspool has 
become clear. The container is made of cast-iron, 
and with its rough sides is well adapted to catch- 
ing and holding what is thrown against it. Its in- 
terior is beyond reach, thus defying all attempts 
to clean it. It is joined to the earthen bowl above 
it with putty, which often becomes cracked, and 
the joint is then defective. A hopper-closet is no 
better than this, even if it is not a greater nui- 

Existing house drainage consists of two parts, 
waste-pipes and soil-pipes above ground, and tile 
drains laid under ground. The former are made 
of iron, or lead, and the latter of clay. For the 
construction of each part, there is a separate pro- 
fession — that of the plumber, and that of the 
drain-layer. The two halves of the system are 
united, at one time by the former, and at another 
by the latter. The attempt to connect clay tile 
and iron pipe, incongruous as they are, would 
seem to justify a third profession. As it is, the 


last man on the job is supposed to make the con- 
nection. Sometimes he does, and sometimes not ; 
but rarely satisfactorily. There are two reasons 
for this : it is a difficult thing to do, and it can be 
left undone with but little risk of exposure. With 
this imperfect work, sewer-gas has ready means of 
escape from the drains, notwithstanding each 
"specialist" may have executed his own work well 
enough. In many instances, it was found that no 
cement — nor plaster, even — had ever been used 
in making this connection. The vertical pipes 
range in size from one to three inches in diameter, 
while the horizontal drain is not less than four, and 
often six, inches. Nothing but the very best 
cement will make a joint approaching perfection, 
and such a joint will not long remain absolutely 
tight, by reason of the cracking of the cement 
when exposed to the air ; or, because there will be 
unequal settling of the drains, which rest on or in 
the ground, and the vertical pipes, which are 
attached to the walls of the house ; or, again, by 
reason of the unequal expansion of the two mate- 
rials — iron, or lead, and clay. The horizontal 
drain is in sections, about two feet in length, which 
are themselves united with a so-called cement. If 
the drain happens to be exposed to the air, the 
cement cracks and drops off ; if laid under ground, 
inconvenience almost invariably induces the work- 


man to slight his work, and the bottom parts of 
the joints get no cement. The result is, that 
sewage constantly oozes out and soaks into the 
ground under the house. (See Plate I). 

In a residence on South Wood street, the soil- 
pipe, which a plumber desired to use, was found 
to be too short ; he simply wrapped a piece of tin 
about the lower end of it to extend it to the drain. 
In a house on Twentieth street, the waste-pipe was 
conducted into the end of the drain without any 
surrounding cement ; and in a house on West 
Washington street, the waste-pipes emptied into a 
wooden trough, which conducted the contents 
directly into an upright wooden spout, which, 
itself, led to the catch-basin. As a plumber often 
pecks a hole into a drain for the insertion of a 
pipe, when he finds that the drain-layer has left no 
opening, as the latter is supposed, but not required, 
to do, the result is that the drain-tile is very fre- 
quently cracked throughout its entire length, or 
broken into pieces. The plumber doesn't stop to 
insert a new section, because he is not " allowed to 
lay drains," and he doesn't care to inform the drain- 
layer of what has occurred, and get a cursing. He 
covers the whole with earth, and nobody ever 
knows what caused a six-months' sickness in the 
house, till the drain is uncovered and sewer-gas 
found to be escaping. 


The very insecure method of laying drains on 
an uneven bed results in their being easily mis- 
placed. They were found to have settled in places 
so that the joints were broken (see Plate X), or 
they were thrown out of grade and the waste 
would not run into the sewer, but, instead, perco- 
lated slowly through the porous tile and imperfect 

Drains are usually laid while building is in pro- 
gress, and very often the heavy stones which are 
at that time rolled about fall upon and break or 
displace them. The drain-layer can not afford to 
remove a broken tile and insert a new one, for he 
has taken the job at starvation prices. He sticks 
the pieces together as well as he can, with or with- 
out cement. 

The drain-layer has also been found guilty of 
putting in less pipe than his plans called for, and 
charging the owner for all that the contract spec- 
ified. The drain-layer himself stamps upon the 
sections of the tile while engaged in laying them, 
or crowds them from side to side of the narrow 
trench in which they are placed, thus breaking 
joints which may have been well made at first. 

When the soil- and waste-pipes are of lead, the 
lead is very easily penetrated, and a hole thus 
made for the escape of sewer-gas. In one case, it 
was found that a nail had been driven into the soil- 


pipe, either by accident or design, while the house 
was in process of construction. The lead had grad- 
ually corroded, and the hole became so large that 
the nail dropped out. In the course of a year or 
two, sewer-gas was noticed. A thorough examina- 
tion of all the joints revealed no fault, and it was 
not until the partitions of the house were torn 
away that the discovery of the nail-hole was made. 

The joints between sections of iron-pipe, when 
iron is used, are calked with lead, unless the 
plumber sees fit to use putty instead, as he often 
does. The result in the latter case is illustrated in 
Plate XI, at the head of this chapter. 

A gentleman, living in a marble-front house on 
the North Side, became convinced that sickness in 
his family was due to sewer-gas. He had the entire 
drainage torn out, and a new and safe system put 
in its place. The main drain was found to be lower 
at the foot of the soil-pipe, than it was thirty feet 
away in the direction of the sewer. This is illus- 
trated in Plate XIV. The result is apparent. 

The catch-basin (see Plate IV) plays a very im- 
portant part in the drainage of a house. If it is 
neglected, it becomes a source of great danger. 
If every man was the owner of the house in which 
he lived, there would be more likelihood of its be- 
ing kept clean ; but in a community where a major- 
ity of the people change residences every year, 


this is not the case. This attachment to the drain- 
age of a house is nothing more nor less than an 
underground cesspool into which the liquid waste 
of a kitchen or laundry empties, on its way to the 
sewer. The object is to prevent certain substances 
which find their way into waste-pipes from going 
into sewers. Principal among these is the grease 
which becomes unavoidably mingled with dish- 
water in the kitchen. This will separate from the 
water while cooling, and cling with such tenacity 
to the sides of pipes and sewers that it would ulti- 
mately clog them. It will unite so firmly with the 
sides of drains, if it comes in contact with them in 
a slow current, that it will defy all attempts at 
removal. It will become harder than a drain tile 
itself. Of course, anything which will check grease 
will also keep back all the sediment which finds its 
way through a kitchen sink. In the catch-basin, 
the grease will float on the top of the water, and 
retain with it coffee-grounds, soap, bits of meat, 
pieces of potato, bread, etc. Every time there is 
a discharge from the kitchen sink, the mass is 
increased in quantity and thrown into commotion. 
It needs not the oft-repeated statement that this 
filthy and most abominably obnoxious and poison- 
ous mess is continually manufacturing a deadly 
gas. This gas can not reach the sewer because of 
the heavy trap in the basin ; but it is induced to 

Plate XIV. 

Drain Sloping the Wrong Way. 


come back into the house by the heat of a kitchen, 
and there is usually nothing in the waste-pipe to 
prevent its return. Often the solid matter becomes 
so abundant that it suddenly drops in a mass to the 
bottom of the basin. Immediately the outlet is 
clogged, and not even the water will any longer 
escape. The basin fills to the brim and then over- 
flows. The filth, now in a semi-liquid form, spreads 
out over the ground, and, when the basin is under 
the house, the whole of the basement or sub-cellar 
is converted into a cesspool. Most of the water 
soaks into the earth, but the solid matter stays 
heaped up to rot and exhale its stench. The lower 
part of the house will not contain the gases, and 
they are forced upward through the whole building. 

Catch-basins should be cleaned twice every year 
— once in early Spring, and again late in the Fall. 
This should be done oftener when the basin is 
receiving an unusual amount of waste, or when it 
is doing work for two houses, or for a single large 
house. It is almost invariably the case that the 
catch-basin is hidden away under the house or 
buried two or three feet below the surface of the 
ground when placed outside. This renders it next 
to impossible to find out the condition of the thing 
until it has become so obnoxious that health and 
life have long been endangered by it. 

When it was discovered that sewer-gas was 


working back from the sewer into houses, de- 
vices were resorted to for shutting it out, and traps 
were invented. Although they are of many kinds, 
and have come to be most complicated, and often 
quite useless, contrivances, the principle on which 
they work is well enough illustrated in the S trap, 
most commonly in use in kitchen-sink waste-pipes, 
and in soil-pipes. It will be readily understood 
that all gases back of and below the trap can not 
escape unless the pressure becomes so great that 
the water is forced aside, or, as may be the case, 
gas is absorbed by the water on one side and given 
off on the other. Dr. Fergus, of Glasgow, found, 
by experiment, that ammonia would pass through 
a quantity of water in fifteen minutes ; sulphurous 
acid in one hour, and sulphureted hydrogen in 
three to four hours. A learned German, Dr. F. 
Erismann, has computed that cesspool, or sewer, 
matter gives off in every twenty-four hours its own 
volume of sewer-gas, which enables one to form 
some notion of the volume of gas sent out daily 
from sewers and forcing its way up into the closets 
and basins of houses, unless some other egress is 
provided. According to Dr. Erismann, eighteen 
cubic metres of cesspool matter give out daily 
11.144 kilograms of carbonic acid, 2.040 of am- 
monia, 0.033 of sulphureted hydrogen, and 7.464 
of carbureted hydrogen, or marsh-gas. 


A series of scientific experiments has just been 
completed by Prof. Paton, Chemist of the Chicago 
Health department. In his elaborate report, he' 
says: "The gases are absorbed, or dissolved, as 
the case may be, at the lower end of the trap, and 
pass, by absorption or diffusion, to the inner end, 
where they may break away in the same manner 
as they first started from the sewage below, and 
pass into the air of the room. Their motion may 
also be expedited by evaporation from the surface 
of the water in the trap, or by the splashing of 
the water in opening the valve, as particles of salt 
are thrown into the air by the action of sea spray. 
If these gases are carrying germs of any kind 
with them, they will be liberated into the atmos- 
phere at the same time." 

The bell trap is found in many waste-pipes 
which are emitting 1 sewer-gas. It is so useless that 
in no instance is it likely to be of any use at all. 
It occupies a place, most frequently, under kitchen 
sinks, and since people who are ignorant of drain- 
age are never more easily made to believe a lie by 
landlords who want their tenants to have all the 
improvements than in the case of this particular 
trap, its shortcomings are herewith presented. In 
every instance where found, the trap was broken, 
and absolutely of no use. A cross section of this 
trap is shown in Plate XV. The height at which 



water stands in it is indicated by the dotted line 

Even when unbroken, this trap is deficient, 
since it holds but a very small amount of water, 
and is, consequently, but an insecure protection 
against the escape of gas. It is attached to the 
bottom of the sink, and its presence can readily be 
determined by any one. It suffers the calamity, 

Plate XV. 

The Bell Trap. 

ninety-nine times out of a hundred, of having the 
"bell," which is seen to overhang the end of the 
waste-pipe, and which is dependent from the per- 
forated covering above it, broken off. It is so in- 
securely joined at this point that the separation 
frequently occurs before the trap is put in place. 
It is also the case that servants and housewives be- 
come wroth at the slow escape of water from the 
sink, and, imagining that the "bell," which they 


can see, is an obstruction, they peck away at 
it till it is broken into fragments. 

Dr. T. Pridgin Teale tells of a case of typhoid 
fever, at Keighley, England, ; ' due to the magnifi- 
cent completeness of the whole drainage, done at 
great cost, including an equally magnificent cess- 
pool, three hundred yards away, and all abso- 
lutely tight, and so unventilated anywhere, except 
into the house through the water traps. 1 ' 

The greatest danger attending the use of the 
" S" trap is in the complete removal of the water 
by syphoning. If two or more water-closets, 
wash-basins, or kitchen-sinks, are connected with 
the same perpendicular pipe, water discharged 
from any one of them tends to produce a vacuum 
in the pipe, and the water is drawn out of the traps. 
This is illustrated in Plate XVI. As the water 
descends from the closet F, the traps at D and E 
will be syphoned. The same is true of the trap 
under the lavatoiy at A. If the waste-pipe, C, 
has about the same size as the outlet of the bath- 
tub, the trap under the bath-tub is certain to be 
syphoned every time water is discharged through 
it. The result is, that sewer-gas then has free 
access to the rooms. The alternate filling and 
syphoning of traps is very neatly exhibited in 
glass traps, which are found in some plumbers' 
offices. There is the additional danger of evap- 


oration of the water if the pipes are not in con- 
stant use. Syphoning is prevented by extending 
the pipe from the crown of the trap up through 
the roof of the building, or by connecting it, 
above all water-closets, with some other pipe which 
extends to the roof. 

The glazed drain-pipe so largely used is often a 
fraud ; while it is covered, originally, with a coat- 
ing which is intended to make it impervious to 
gases and liquids, the drain very soon loses this 
glazing, and becomes as porous as a brick. The 
following is from Eliot C. Clarke, a civil engineer 
of Boston, who made investigations in that city : 
u What has been said about bricks applies to the 
clay drain-pipe (now so commonly used) to a de- 
gree not usually recognized. Too frequently one 
hears Akron pipe spoken of as though it possessed 
unvarying qualities. It should be remembered 
that such pipes are burnt in a kiln very much as 
bricks. Before burning, they may be air-checked ; 
like bricks, the pipes nearest the fire may be 
warped, or fire-cracked ; those higher up may be less 
thoroughly burnt, corresponding to ' light-colored 
bricks. ' Others may be quite soft and imperfectly 
glazed, or the glazing may scale off by ' popping. ' 
Slip-glazed pottery pipes are still more liable to 
defects. They are made of a different kind of clay, 
and, being burnt at a lower temperature, are usually 

Plate XVI. 

Syphoned Traps. 


more porous and less hard. The glazing, which 
is formed by dipping them, before burning, into a 
thin mixture of argillaceous earth, forms a skin 
over the pipe, which at times peels off under the 
action of frost, acids, or hard usage." 

A gentleman was about to build an $8,000 house 
on the West Side, The architect asked for bids on 
the drain-laying. One of the professionals said that 
he would do the Avork for $46. This was the lowest 
bid. The building was to be 25x61 feet in size, 
and required 139 lineal feet of six-inch tile-drains ; 
twelve feet of four-inch drains, and eight feet of 
fifteen-inch sewer-pipe, for a cold air duct to the 
furnace. A catch-basin had to be constructed, and 
an opening to the street made for connection with 
the sewer. It would cost the drain-layer $5 for a 
permit to open the street, leaving him just $41 for 
his work and the material used. The kind of a job 
which he Avould do is apparent when the following 
is taken into consideration : A responsible man, 
who is known to do none but good work, would 
not take the contract for less than $460. A good 
catch-basin, extending ^to the surface of the 
ground, as it should, and supplied with an iron 
cover, alone costs $15. The condition of existing 
drains shows conclusively that drain-layer No. 1 
might keep within the price. With such facts as 
these at hand, it is easy to account for disjointed 


tiles, plaster ' ' cement, " broken drains, improper 
connections, and escaping sewer-gas. 

It has been found to be a matter of serious ob- 
jection that the waste-pipes and drains are so inac- 
cessible. It is frequently impossible, and always 
difficult, to locate defects, and, hence, to secure 
any repairs. The drains are hidden away under 
the cemented floor of a basement, or in a low and 
inaccessible cellar, and the pipes are shut up in 
the walls. If they were absolutely perfect in con- 
struction, this would be no objection ; but a system 
of tile drains and putty-jointed, iron soil-pipes can 
hardly exist for three months without becoming 

Ordinarily, drains and pipes have no means of 
ventilation, except through water-closets and sinks, 
directly into the apartments of a house, or through 
defective joints. Sewer-gas is generated in drains 
themselves, and is prevented by traps from passing 
into the sewer. It is compelled, then, to escape in 
the opposite direction. 

The defects found in house drains, as they have 
been heretofore constructed, may be enumerated 
as follows (see Plate I) : 

1. Much of the drain-tile in use soon loses its 
glazed coating, and admits of the passage of water 
and gas through its substance. 

2. The joints in drains and waste-pipes, and the 


connections between these, which are made with 
cement and plaster, are defective, both because of 
the nature of the material used and of the work- 

3. Drains are often broken, or joints discon- 
nected, by the unequal settling of the drains and 
the building. 

4. Traps are either inefficient, or a nuisance in 

5. The catch-basin is either wrongly pat under 
a house, or not located where it can be readily ex- 
amined and cleaned. 

6. No adequate ventilation is provided, by means 
of which the excess of poisonous gases in the 
drains may pass into the outside air. 

7. Pipes are thrust loosely into drains, and no 
attempt made to close the space between a small 
pipe and a large drain. 

8. Holes are pecked into the side or top of 
drains to admit a soil-pipe, and whole sections are 
so cracked, or broken, that they are no longer air- 
tight, or gas-tight, drains. 

9. The soil-pipe is not long enough to reach the 
drain, and a piece of tin, or something similar, is 
wrapped about the lower end and extended into 
the drain ; the cement, if used, soon cracks, and 
the damp atmosphere causes a corrosion of the tin 
until there is an opening through it. 


10. Holes and cracks are found in lead waste- 
pipes, and iron soil-pipes, which have been hidden 
away in partitions. 

11. Inferior drains, those spoiled in the baking, 
or " seconds," discarded drains, are used. 

12. Drains are laid without reference to grade, 
and their contents thus turned back under the 

13. The waste-pipe of a kitchen-sink is carried 
into a soil-pipe conveniently near, and connected 
with it below the trap. 

14. The overflow, or the save-all tray, of 
wash-basins and bath-tubs, connects with the waste- 
pipe below the trap. 

15. The pan closet, commonly in use, is objec- 
tionable, because of the unventilated chamber be- 
tween the pan and the trap. This fills with gases 
which pass through the water-seal by absorption, 
or are set free when the closet is used. 




"It is not just," said a drain-layer, " to charge 
up all the evil results of bad drain-laying to those 
who do the work. I will admit that there are 
very many dishonest and incapable* men in the pro- 
fession, but there is very often somebody back of 
them who is primarily responsible for defective 
work. I might point out block after block of 
houses that, I '11 warrant you, are unsafe to live 
in. I have never entered them. I simply know 
what the system is under which they were 
put together, and consequently that good work 
could not have been done without a loss. You 
know that no workman is going to lose any thing 
on a job if he can help it, and there is abundant 
opportunity to keep inside the figures in drain-lay- 
ing and plumbing. This is the system to which I 
refer : A man with money proposes to speculate. 
He purchases a number of lots in a favorable resi- 
dence locality, and undertakes to erect thereon a 
row of houses which shall present an attractive 

exterior, and so find ready sale, or be easily rented. 

N 9 


He gets an architect to draw plans, and, when they 
are satisfactory, buys them. He goes next to a 
builder, lays the plans before him, and opens nego- 
tiations for letting the job in a lump. The builder, 
who has on hand estimates for similar work from 
plumbers, drain -layers, painters, etc., selects the 
lowest and commences to figure on them as a basis. 
The bargain is struck after the builder has gone 
down to the very lowest figures, and after he has 
spent a week or more listening to what Mr. So-and- 
so will do the work for. To get the contract, he is 
obliged to omit any rated profit, trusting to his 
success in squeezing contractors under him down 
to lower estimates. 

"With the contract on his hands, the builder 
proceeds to let out the work in sub - contracts. 
Carpenters, plumbers, drain - layers, glaziers and 
others are' summoned to his office to bid. He has 
at hand the estimates on which he has based his 
own contract, and as it makes but little difference 
to him whether the building is well-constructed or 
not, if it only looks well on the outside, he lets the 
jobs, particularly of plumbing and drain - laying, 
to irresponsible men, simply because their bids 
are low. The result is inferior work. When the 
owner of the property steps into the houses after 
they are completed, he can not discover any faults, 
since he rarely knows what faults are even in ordi- 


nary carpentry. The houses are rented low, be- 
cause built cheap, and families come into them, 
who, when once domiciled, can not afford to move, 
or, perhaps, something in their leases works a for- 
feiture of all their goods, if they leave before the 
year is up. Sewer -gas inevitably finds its way 
out of the poor joints and broken drains, and sick- 
ness and death are constant guests at the homes 
of these unfortunate people. It is not only in the 
ordinary brick houses that this is an actual experi- 
ence, but in houses with stone and marble fronts. 
" I do not believe that our best drain-layers will 
stoop to such dishonesty ; but you must know — 
and yet, perhaps, you do not know — that there are 
men in this city, pretending to lay drains, who 
never served an apprenticeship in their lives. It is 
nothing but the truth that men have obtained 
licenses from the city government to lay drains, 
who never did anything more in the business than 
to drive a team in hauling drains for some other 
man, or dig trenches in which drains were to be 
laid ! After such an apprenticeship of a few weeks 
many an ordinary day laborer has concluded that 
he can lay drains as well as his employer. He 
suddenly quits work and turns up at the Depart- 
ment of Public Works, with a friend or two to 
sign a bond, and gets a license for the new busi- 
ness. It is by such men, who are not capable of 


doing a good job, and consequently can work 
cheaply, that poor and faulty drains are laid You 
must understand that such as these are an injury 
to our business, since it has been, and even is now, 
so hard to make people believe that drain-laying is 
a profession ; that it requires skill and education 
to follow it — a technical education, I mean. A 
drain-layer is required to give a bond in the sum 
of $5,000 that his work will be well performed. 
It is a pity that it can not be a protection to us 
who know how to lay drains properly. A com- 
petition with irresponsible and ignorant men is 
inducing reliable drain-layers to slight their work. 
It becomes a necessity with them, since the only 
alternative is to quit the business. " 

' ' What can be done to secure the proper con- 
struction of drains ? " was asked. 

u In the first place, educate the people until 
they shall see the necessity of hiring none but 
good and reliable drain-layers. So long as the peo- 
ple themselves will accept defective drains, so long- 
will they be laid. I understand that the mass of 
the people are in the predicament of being com- 
pelled to live in the houses that have already been 
built by speculators, but a system of house inspec- 
tion by the Department of Public Works, or by the 
Health department, could readily bring these de- 
fects to light, and lead to their being remedied. It 


certainly could prevent their recurrence. There 
are now inspectors whose duty it is to look after 
the drain-laying and plumbing while houses are 
being constructed, but they are simply present 
when the drain-layer locates his drains, catch-basin, 
etc. , and that is the last seen of them. The inspect- 
or actually never knows whether a job is well done 
or not. These inspectors again misdo their duty 
in recommending that licenses be given to the up- 
starts of whom I spoke a little while ago." 

" What are the qualifications of a good drain- 
layer ? " 

w k He should be a mason, or bricklayer, in the 
first place, so that he may know how to construct 
a catch-basin properly. Here let me point out 
another fault that must be charged up to the city. 
Formerly, it was required that the bricks used in 
building the catch-basin should be placed on end, 
with the edge forming the inner surface. The 
bricks were set in the best cement, and pointed. 
Then the basins were solid and tight. Now, the 
custom is to break the bricks in two and lay them 
on their side. The work is much easier and less 
expensive, and the basin is only half as good as 
one of the former kind. So far as the Department 
of Public Works is concerned, it doesn't make 
much difference how a catch-basin is made, and 
we may soon expect to see one simply boarded up. " 


The gentleman's attention was called to the job 
referred to^ in a previous chapter, which a drain- 
layer offered to perform for $46, and he was asked 
to make an estimate. He figured for a moment, 
and exhibited the following table, which he said 
indicated the exact first cost of everything : 

Drains, 139 feet, at 15 cents a foot $20 85 

Top and bottom for catch-basin 80 

Cement 1 25 

Knuckles for branches 3 CO 

Brick 2 40 

Cold-air ducts for furnace. 7 50 

Permit for opening sewer 5 00 

Hauling drains. , 1 00 

Work .... 10 00 

Total $51 80 

In this there was no allowance for profit, which 
every man must have, or discontinue business. 
If the "professional" drain-layer, who offered to 
build the basin for $5.80 less than first cost, got 
the contract, he must of necessity have slighted 
the work. The result in such case would be a 
catch-basin like that shown in Plate I. 

A diabolical plan for introducing sewer-gas into 
houses was discovered on the North Side. It is 
enough to startle the most indifferent to know that 
their lives may be so imperiled by the rascality or 
thoughtlessness of architects and drain-layers. Six 
brown-stone-front houses were in process of erec- 


tion on Erie and Ontario streets, between State and 
Cass streets. They stood on a double lot extend- 
ing from one street to the other, three foundations 
on Ontario and three on Erie. They were three 
stories high besides the basement, and appeared to 
be well constructed. They were among the most 
attractive houses on those streets. The work had 
proceeded so far that the walls were up, a portion 
of the plastering done, the plumbing partially 
completed, and the inside carpentry begun. A 
gentleman examined the houses, with a view to 
leasing one of them. That gentleman was a sani- 
tary engineer, and had given the subject of drain- 
age and ventilation considerable study for his own 
personal satisfaction. It thus happened that he 
made a careful examination of the drainage, means 
of heating, etc. To his surprise and horror, he 
found a drain-pipe immediately connecting the air- 
chamber under the furnace with, the sewer in the 
public street ! He saw at a glance that the result 
would be to warm every room in the house with 
heated sewer-gas, drawn directly from the sewer, 
and that the occupants would breathe it instead of 
even a diluted atmosphere ! It took him but a 
moment to reach the street, and offer up a silent 
prayer that the discovery had been made before it 
was too late, and he had taken his family into the 
house only to see them perish. He informed the 


writer of his discovery, and the latter made a 
personal investigation, together with Inspector 
Genung, of the Health department, who was 
asked to lend his official confirmation to whatever 
facts might be disclosed. 

The air-chamber under the furnace in each of 
the houses was found to be about three feet deep 
and four feet in diameter. Connected with this 
was an eighteen-inch duct, leading to the rear of 
the house, through which fresh air could be drawn. 
This would ordinarily pass upward through the fur- 
nace, become heated, and be conducted through 
flues to the various rooms. By the light of a lamp, 
a small grate was discovered in the bottom of this 
chamber, and a workman explained that it covered 
the entrance to the drain which led to the sewer. 
The drain was four inches in diameter, and as it 
ran along under the ground, it was to receive the 
contents of the water-closets of the house. A 
running trap had been placed in this drain, which, 
it was expected, would shut off the gases in the 
sewer from the house. No one needs to be in- 
formed that the water in the trap would very soon 
evaporate, when there would be an uninterrupted 
communication between the furnace and the street 
sewer. The foul and poisonous gases from the 
sewer would feed the air-flues of the furnace, and 
be distributed over the entire house. The pressure 


in the sewer would drive these gases back into the 
furnace to the exclusion of fresh air through the 
legitimate flue, and the suction of the furnace 
would even draw the gases through the trap by dis- 
placing the water ; but, worst of all, the gases 
generated in the soil- and waste-pipes would be 
drawn directly into the furnace. 

The man primarily guilty of such construc- 
tion was the architect. The architect drew the 
plans of the houses, and made the specifications in 
detail. Under his direction the work was per- 
formed. He ordered the drain from the air-cham- 
ber under the furnace to the sewer to be put in 
To be sure that there was no mistake about the 
matter, he was seen at his office. He was a lead- 
ing architect of the citv. He acknowledged his 
responsibility, and said that the drain had been 
laid to draw off" the water which might accumulate 
under the furnace. It had been an afterthought, 
but, when he found that water collected there, 
some way had to be provided for its escape. 

" But," said the Inspector, "don't you consider 
that a violation of the sanitary principles which 
should govern in the construction of a house 1 " 

"Well, what of it?" was the short and sweet 

"Simply this, that the Health department will 
not allow " 


"The Health department be — . I'm building 
those houses, and I presume that I '11 do as I 'm a- 
mind to. " 

"But you are conducting into the house the 
most dangerous of all gases, and the result will be 
that no person can live there." 

"What's that to you? What business is it of 

yours if it does stink ? I'll put a into each 

house if I want to. " 

He afterward apologized, and confessed that he 
had feared at the beginning that sewer-gas would 
feed the furnace, but he thought the trap would 
overcome the danger. He acknowledged, too, 
that there was a likelihood of the evaporation of 
the water in the trap, but he had tried to make 
himself believe, evidently, that enough water 
would rise up out of the ground mysteriously, and 
flow into the drain from the air-chamber, to keep 
the trap filled. 

The man who laid the drains was present during 
the interview. He was asked what he thought of 
such a diabolical undertaking. He shrugged his 
shoulders, and said, in a whisper : " You see, I 'm 
not to blame ; J was hired to put in the drains, and I 
did the job without asking any questions. You 
see, when a fellow has to figure down so close to 
get a job, we don't make any suggestions, for we 
can't afford to put in any improvements, or to lose 


the work, as we certainly would if we didn't 
keep our mouths shut. I think it's a pretty bad 
piece of business, on the sly, you know.' 1 

He was finally ordered, by the architect, to go 
up at once and examine the drain, and, if' he 
thought best, close it up. The very evident rea- 
son for the construction of the drain was, that if 
water should, by any means, get into the air-cham- 
ber and have no means of escape, the owner of the 
building would discover it and complain. The 
drain would never be revealed until the furnace 
itself should be torn away. No one knows how 
many houses are cursed with the same hidden 
danger, and are saturated with sewer - gas whose 
escape from the sewer can not be accounted for. 




It must be conceded by every intelligent and 
honest person, who has given the subject attention, 
that it is dangerous to live in a. house which has 
defective drainage. But a man's opinion should 
be respected when he affirms a belief in the 
security of his house against sewer-gas. An ex- 
pert might detect it by the sense of smell, while 
another person could not, or be satisfied, from the 
faulty construction of the drains, that it would 
enter the house under certain circumstances, a fact 
which the occupant could not appreciate without 
proof. It has been stated that nine-tenths of the 
houses, in this city are unfit to live in, by reason 
of defects in their drainage. This is undoubtedly 
true of all cities. In Chicago, it would probably 
be nearer the truth to say that not one house in a 
thousand has a perfect drainage, and, consequently, 
is a healthy habitation. If the advice were prac- 
tical, it might be urged upon nine hundred and 
ninety-nine families in a thousand to move out of 
their houses at once ; but, unfortunately, they 


would have to stay out, as there could not be found 
other houses better than those abandoned. Dr. 
Teale says " that having discovered and rectified, one 
by one, numerous defects of drainage in my own 
house (in Leeds, England,) and in property under 
my charge, and having, further, traced illness 
among my patients to scandalous carelessness 
and gross dishonesty in drain work, I became in- 
dignantly alive to the fact that very few houses 
are safe to live in. The conviction struck deeply 
into my mind, that probably one-third, at least, of 
the incidental illness of the kingdom, including, 
perhaps, much of child-bed illness, and some of 
the fatal results in surgical operations in hospitals 
and private houses ('surgical calamities, ' Sir 
James Paget would call them), are the direct 
result of drainage defects, and, therefore, can be, 
and ought to be, prevented. ' Preventive medi- 
cine ' has long been proclaiming such facts, and 
long have we turned a deaf ear, and we of the 
medical profession in general are only just begin- 
ning to see the great reality of her teaching. If 
any one challenges this assertion in reference to 
my own profession, I will reply by the inquiry : 
How many medical men can he tell me of Avho 
understand the sanitary condition of their own 
houses, or have adequately ascertained that those 
conditions are, so far as our knowledge at present 


goes, free from dangers to health? If, by any 
possibility, it could be brought about that every 
medical man in the kingdom should realize the 
necessity for looking into the state of his own 
house, and act upon that conviction, I feel certain 
that the discovery would be made in so great a 
proportion of instances that they were living over 
a pent-up pestilence, that we should at once have 
an army of sanitarians, earnest and keen to ferret 
out unsuspected sources of illness." 

The doctor says that he has been taught by ob- 
servation and experience "that if we are ever to 
have sound sanitary legislation — if we are ever to 
have our sanitary arrangements carried out in first- 
rate workmanship — it must be by the education of 
the public in the details of domestic sanitary mat- 
ters, so that, realizing their vital importance, know- 
ing what ought to be avoided, and able to judge 
of the correctness and quality of work done, they 
may demand and so obtain first-rate workmanship. 
When disease arises which we call ' preventable, ' 
depend upon it, some one ought to have prevented 

After declaring that defective work is due both 
to ignorance and dishonesty on the part of work- 
men, he presents the matter of responsibility for 
defective drains as follows: "Probably no work 
done throughout the kingdom is so badly done as 


work in houses, drains and pipes, which is out of 
sight. Probably no better work is better done in 
the kingdom than on the locomotives turned out 
for our railways, or the machinery which we send 
to all parts of the world. Are the workingmen 
less honest in the one case than in the other % I 
trow not. The difference is this : Necessity in the 
one case compels good work ; indifference and 
ignorance in the other case allow bad work to pass 
unchallenged. If the plate-layer were so to fix his 
rails that they would not correspond, and the next 
engine were thrown off the line, and death were 
the result, an inquest would be held, and that 
plate-layer would be held for manslaughter. Is 
there any great difference in the case where one 
drain pipe, by missing another, ends in nothing, 
and in a few weeks is the cause of death from 
typhoid fever ? The excuse at present is that the 
drain-layer does not know how certainly he is lay- 
ing the foundation of illness and death. Disperse 
that ignorance, and the excuse will be gone. If 
the tire of the locomotive breaks and throws a 
train off the line, the railway company goes to the 
maker of the engine, the maker of the engine to 
the maker of the tire, the maker of the tire to his 
books, and there learns the name of each foreman 
and, I believe, of each workman, through whose 
hand the tire passed. Why can we not achieve 


the same connected responsibility about our 
drains ? " 

The subject of house - drainage has been given 
much closer attention in England than in this 
country. Sanitarians across the sea long ago found 
out the danger attending the breathing of sewer- 
gas, and for years they have been studying how it 
might be shut out of houses. But they have not 
aimed at the root of the evil by tearing out the old 
system and substituting one which has no defects, 
and can have none of those now so common. 
These men have learned well how to discover 
breaks and leaks, but they have not met with so 
good success in their endeavors to apply remedies. 
No better method of examination, so far as it goes, 
can be given than that of Mr. Rogers Field, an 
eminent English sanitary engineer. 

1 ' The first point is to ascertain whether the 
drains pass underneath the house or outside it. 
[They are invariably under the house, in Chicago.] 
If they pass underneath the house, I test them 
carefully for soundness — to ascertain whether they 
are water-tight — as well as test them for freedom 
from deposit and velocity of flow. If they pass 
outside, I merely apply the two latter tests. The 
test for soundness is managed as follows : The 
drain is opened down to at its lower end, generally 
in the area between the house and the street, and 


carefully stopped with a plug of clay. Another 
opening is made in the drain, and the drain is 
then gradually filled with water. As soon as the 
drain is full, the water is turned off, and carefully 
watched at the upper opening. If the water 
remains in the drain, the drain is sound, but if not, 
the drain is leaky, and the rapidity with which the 
water sinks indicates the amount of the leakage of 
the drain. It is not at all unusual for the water to 
run away so rapidly that it is impossible even to 
fill the drain so as to make the water show at the 
upper opening at all. The test for deposit is by 
flushing from the closets, sinks, etc., and pouring 
down a large quantity of water, and watching the 
drain at the opening at the lower end (of course, 
without any plug in it). If the water comes down 
thick, or with a bad smell, it shows that there is a 
deposit ; if it runs clear and sweet, it shows that 
the drain is clear. The test for velocity of flow is 
by noticing the time that water takes to run a 
given distance. Whether there are any old drains 
or cesspools, etc. , can only be ascertained by open- 
ing up and searching for them, and this must be 
done whenever there is any reason to suspect their 

"The next point is to ascertain whether there 
is any trap between the house drains and the sewer. 

A strong draft up the drain from the sewer is gen- 
O 9* 


erally unmistakable evidence of the absence of the 
trap. Should there be a trap, it must be opened 
down to, as the chances are that it is so constructed 
as to be more or less full of deposit. It must, of 
course, also be ascertained whether the drains are 
ventilated. It is generally evident they are not. 

"The next proceeding is to examine and test all 
the details of the sanitary arrangements, water- 
closets, sinks, baths, etc. The soil-pipes must be 
carefully examined, and if they are inside the 
house they must be specially tested. If of iron, 
with putty joints, as is often the case, they may, 
without much risk of error, be assumed to be un- 
sound ; but if it is wished to test them, this could 
be done by the smoke test. If they are of lead, 
they should be tested by being plugged and filled 
with water. A glance at the water-closet apparatus 
is enough for an experienced man ; but it is neces- 
sary to take down the seats to see whether the 
overflow of the ' safes,' or lead trays, underneath, 
are connected with the soil-pipes, as is often im- 
properly the case. The condition of the traps can 
be tested by lifting the handle of the closets, and 
noticing whether any smell comes up. In a good 
closet no smell is perceptible. If, however, the 
apparatus is of a faulty description, the closet is 
sure to smell sooner or later. It must be carefully 
ascertained what cisterns supply the closets, and, 


if there is the least uncertainty, the cisterns must 
all be tested by drawing off water from them, and 
in some cases by coloring the water. The waste- 
pipes of sinks, baths, etc., often give a good deal 
of trouble. A good way to trace them is by pour- 
ing down hot Avater, and feeling which pipes be- 
come heated. If hot water poured down the waste 
of a bath, for instance, heats a soil-pipe, it shows 
that the waste of the bath goes into the soil-pipe. 
"It is never safe to trust to appearances, as the 
following curious instance will show : In a house I 
recently examined, I saw an open end of a pipe 
projecting through a wall, and was informed that it 
was the overflow of the cistern. I tested this over- 
flow by pouring water down it, but no water came 
out of the projecting pipe. I was then told that it 
was the waste from the ' safe, ' or tray, under the 
water-closet. I tested this in the same way, but 
no water came out of the projecting pipe. I was 
then told it was the waste from the safe of a bath, 
and on closer examination I found that the pipe 
evidently did come from the bath, when to my sur- 
prise no water came out of the pipe. I then 
had the casing of the bath taken down, when it 
was found that the pipe had surely been connected 
with the safe of the bath, but at its highest point, 
so that no water would run out of it, and that the 
real outlet from the safe of the bath was into the 


soil-pipe. The explanation was, no doubt, as fol- 
lows : The outlet of the safe had always gone into 
the soil-pipe, but some former tenant had insisted 
on its being altered. To do this properly, the fall 
of the safe must have been altered, which would 
have involved some expense, and the projecting 
pipe had therefore been run through the wall as a 
sham to deceive him. The bath in question was in 
a dressing-room opening into a bed- room, so that 
the connection of the outlet with the soil-pipe was 
a very serious matter. 

' ' In an ordinary London house of moderate 
size, such an examination would probably take 
from three to four hours, if the house had been 
previously prepared by having the concealed parts 
exposed,- and if no great amount of testing is 
required. In very many cases, after opening drains 
I consider it unnecessary to test them, as I am 
certain that they are leaky, from past experience. 

"The drains are tested to see that they are 
water-tight when they are laid, but this test (by 
blocking and filling them with water) can be 
applied at any time. The accuracy of the laying 
of drains, and their self-cleansing capacity, can be 
immediately tested by trying the velocity of flow, 
as already explained. The traps on the drains can 
be tested by examining whether any solid matter 
rests in them, and also by trying whether paper, 


etc. , flushed down the drains, passes through them. 
The sufficiency of the flush of the water-closets 
can be tested by seeing whether it drives paper 
through the traps. The test of smell is also val- 
uable, as in well-laid drains any other smell than 
that of fresh sewage is an indication that some- 
thing is wrong." 

Leaks in drains may be discovered by the use 
of peppermint. An ounce of the oil of peppermint 
turned into a water-closet on an upper floor, fol- 
lowed by two or three pailfuls of hot water, will 
indicate any openings in the pipes below by its 
odor. It is necessary that great care be exercised 
in making this test, lest the peppermint get on the 
clothes or hands and follow the person conducting 
the examination wherever he goes : it would then 
be impossible to tell whether the odor escapes 
from defects in the pipes or not. When drains are 
laid on the surface of the ground under a house, 
it is easy to find defects in joints, by observa- 
tion merely. Commonly, the most glaring defect 
will be found in the imperfect connection of 
soil-pipe and drain. The syphoning of traps in 
waste-pipes, showing imperfect construction, is 
indicated by a gurgling sound as water is dis- 
charged from a sink or wash-basin. The safest 
way to determine whether a waste-pipe, emptying 
a bath-tub or wash-basin, connects properly with 


the soil-pipe, is to remove a portion of the floor, but 
if a quantity of water is discharged from a bath- 
tub or wash-basin after the water has been shut off 
from the water-closet, and the pan under the closet 
be lowered so that the water in the trap is visible, 
a bubbling will indicate that the waste-pipe dis- 
charges into the trap — the best thing that can be 
recommended under the circumstances. It cer- 
tainly should not discharge above nor below the 
water in the trap. The location of the catch-basin 
may be determined by following the course of the 
kitchen sink waste-pipe. It may be found in the 
cellar, or in the back yard. 

As to remedying defects, the best and safest 
way is to tear out old drains and put in a system 
which can have no defects, such as that described 
in the next chapter. But there are thousands of 
people who are satisfied with the "next best 
thing," and other thousands who can not afford to 
tear down and build anew. It is well, then, to 
know that there is a partial remedy, and that for a 
small amount of money much can be done toward 
shutting out sewer-gas. Partial relief is better 
than none. A reference to Plate II will assist in 
understanding what follows. 

In the first place, let a running trap be put into 
the drain leading from the house to the street 
sewer. A section of the old pipe can be removed 


and the trap inserted in its place. Any section 
may be selected outside the house and within the 
yard. The diameter of the trap should be the 
same as that of the drain, and it should be pro- 
vided with a hand- hole for the convenience of 
cleaning it out. It frequently occurs that rags, 
sticks, and similar articles, find their way into the 
drain, which would very likely clog the trap if left 
in it. The hand-hole makes it possible to remove 
such obstructions. Just above the trap, and in the 
same section — that is, in the end toward the house 
— an opening should be left on the upper side, to 
which a pipe could be attached to extend to the 
surface of the ground. This is to assist in the 
ventilation of the drains, which will be explained 
further on. This pipe should be four inches in size, 
for a six-inch drain ; six, for a nine-inch, and nine, 
for a twelve-inch drain. At the upper end, it 
should be covered with an iron grate, to prevent 
the entrance of any solid substance. The trap 
should be surrounded by a man-hole, built of brick, 
and reaching to the top of the ground. It may be 
covered with an iron plate, and thus not disturb, 
materially, the appearance of the lawn ; or, it may 
come near to the surface, and be covered with a 

The second important thing is to provide venti- 
lation for the entire system of drains. If the soil- 


pipe be extended to and above the roof, there will 
then be two pipes reaching from the main, under- 
ground, drain up to the open air. The one inside 
the building will always be warmer than the one 
outside, hence there will be a current upward in 
the former, and another downward in the latter. 
Any sewer-gas which is generated in the drains will 
thus be carried out into the open air by the in- 
duced current. Should the pressure in the sewer 
be so great as to displace the water in the running 
trap, or gas from the sewer pass the trap in any 
other way, it will be drawn out of the top of the 
ventilated soil-pipe, rather than into the house. 
To insure ventilation, the drains should be con- 
nected with a flue adjoining, or within, a chimney, 
and extend several feet above it. The mistake 
should not be made of attempting to ventilate the 
drains by a direct communication with the chim- 
ney. This was found to have been done in several 
instances. The result was that, when fires were 
. not burning, the foul air of the drains was drawn 
into the rooms of the house. 

If the catch-basin is under the house, it should 
be removed at once to some point in the yard, and 
kept periodically cleaned. The down-spout from 
the roof — ■ the pipe which carries off the rain-water 
— may empty into the catch-basin, to serve as a 
ventilating pipe. The catch-basin should be placed 


as near as possible to the sink and laundry 

Exposed drains should be covered with earth 
after every joint has been looked to, and re- 
cemented, if defective. Putty joints in iron soil- 
pipes should be re-calked with lead, care being 
exercised in the examination of every joint. 

The seats of water-closets should be constructed 
in such a maimer as to allow a current of air to 
pass under them. The bath-tub should be raised 
from the floor at least four inches, and a small 
door-like arrangement run along in front of it and 
hung on hinges. There should be a proper lead 
lining — save-all tray — underneath them, with a 
waste-pipe leading to the basement. Soil-pipes 
and waste-pipes should not be hidden away in par- 
titions, but put where the}^ are accessible. 

Unfortunately, too many are satisfied with the 

tinkering which the nearest plumber will do, and 

their house drains and waste-pipes are but little 

improved. It should be borne in mind that the 

plumber gets his living by putting lead pipes into 

houses, some of which bring water in, while others 

carry waste out. It is a very simple matter to put 

supply pjipes in place, and they can never get out 

of order without that fact is known at once. The 

plumber likes a job of mending a supply pipe ; it 

gives him occupation. A child may know what to 


do when a supply-pipe needs repairing. It is when 
a plumber is needed to repair, or alter, a waste- 
pipe that the best of judgment and experience is 
required. The agitation of the danger lurking in 
defective drains will be hailed with joy by plumb- 
ers. When they see the people trembling with 
fear of being poisoned by sewer-gas, they rejoice, 
for their harvest has come. It is not because the 
plumber is a worse man at heart than other men 
that he is willing to earn something at somebody 
else's expense, but the fact is, that the majority of 
plumbers are ignorant of their business, or that 
particular part of it which relates to shutting out 
of houses the poisonous gases generated by the 
waste, for whose removal they, in part, provide. 
If a plumber's patron suggests a trap here, and a 
new pipe there, he is perfectly willing to put in 
the "safeguard," but he would be just as willing 
to take it out on the next day, if paid for the 
labor. Traps furnish him a good profit, and he 
would insert them in every five feet of waste-pipe 
if he had the privilege. 

All this is given by way of warning. There 
are honest and capable plumbers, but when a man 
becomes satisfied that his house is polluted, and 
the lives and health of his family endangered, by 
sewer-gas, he should first seek the advice of a com- 


petent sanitary engineer. Plumbers and drain- 
layers should be directed to follow his instructions. 
Common sense is a reliable guide ; it may serve 
a man well in case he is compelled to act as his 
own sanitary engineer. 




It is plain that a system of house-drainage, 
which will provide security against sewer-gas, must 
be perfect, both in construction and adaptation. 
The best possible, material maybe used, and the 
greatest care taken in the work, with the single 
exception of a defective joint ; there is as much 
danger as though the whole system were deficient. 
The material maybe above criticism, but it may 
as well have been worthless if the means to an end 
is lost sight of in the construction. House drains 
should never become ventilating pipes for the 
street sewer, nor should they bring cesspools into 
and under a house in useless traps and catch- 
basins. House drains should carry waste out of a 
house — not much, nor little, but all — and do it 
promptly. When that which is intended for the 
street sewer is started on its journey from kitchen- 
sink, wash-basin, or water-closet, it should be 
afforded a means of reaching its destination at 
once, and without interruption. Not an atom of 
filth should be allowed to cling to the sides of 


waste-pipes, nor be held in solution in some trap, 
until it begins to decompose and give off its dan- 
gerous gases. A perfect system of house-drainage 
will not leak, nor ever contain any foul odors. It 
will not get out of repair at some unexpected mo- 
ment, nor will it wear out. There is no more rea- 
son why there should be perishable material used, 
and defective joints made, in house drains, than 
in the pipes which conduct illuminating gas into a 
house. The latter are air-tight, and gas-tight ; so 
should the former be. House drains should be 
recognized as a part of a house, not an obnoxious 
adjunct, and be as accessible as any other part of 
the building. It is not extravagant to talk about 
a perfect system of drainage, as it might be of a 
house itself, since lasting material can be used, 
secure joints made, and ventilation for pipes pro- 
vided, which will absolutely relieve a building of 
sewer -gas. To this end, good workmanship is 
essential. The supervision of the construction of 
house drainage should be entrusted to a sanitary 
engineer, no less than the construction of a house 
itself to an architect. 

It is interesting, as well as a matter of import- 
ance, to notice briefly the growth of house drain- 
age, as a system, which has at length culminated, 
apparently, in the perfection so much desired. 
The first crude idea of getting rid of house 


waste, when sewers came into use, would be 
correctly illustrated in Plate IV if the catch-basin 
and the trap under the water-closet were not shown. 
When the uninterrupted communication with the 
sewer was found to admit offensive gases into the 
house — their danger was probably not realized — 
a trap was called into use, as represented. This 
was found to be only a partial safeguard, and a 
second trap, such as the one in the main drain — 
represented in Plate V — was put in. Again, it 
was discovered that a heavy pressure in the sewer 
would ' c force " the traps ; that the water in them 
was syphoned out, would evaporate, etc. Fur- 
thermore, it was discovered that gases were gen- 
erated in the drains themselves. Then the verti- 
cal pipes were extended to and above the roof, as 
shown in Plate XVTI, to ventilate them. To re- 
lieve the main drain of the pressure from the 
sewer, a ventilating pipe was extended upward 
along the wall of the house to the roof ; or, what 
was practically the same thing, the drain was con- 
nected with the down-spout. This has been sup- 
plemented by the open man-holes over the street 
sewer. Often this ventilating pipe ended near an 
upper bed-room window, and the gases it dis- 
charged were drawn into the house. 

Some of these appliances, or all of them com- 
bined, are in use. They afford only partial relief. 

Plate XVII. 


Imperfect Ventilation op Soil-pipe. 


The ventilation of the drains was not positive, but 
rather of a negative character. An established 
current in the drains was finally settled by con- 
necting them with a flue in the chimney, as shown 
in Plate XVIII. With the house drains cut off 
from the street sewer, by the running trap ; with 
the soil- and waste-pipes extended to the roof, full 
size, or with a fresh-air inlet to the main drain be- 
tween the running trap and the house, and heat in 
the chimney, there must of necessity always be a 
current of pure air moving through the pipes and 

The catch-basin — more correctly, a grease ba- 
sin — came into use to intercept the grease in 
kitchen and laundry waste. This would adhere to 
the sides of the street sewer, and ultimately ob- 
struct it. The city authorities require its construc- 
tion and use. At best, it is a nuisance of the 
worst kind ; but until something is devised to take 
its place, it must be regarded as a necessary evil. 
Relief is promised by Mr. Benezette Williams, a 
civil engineer of Chicago, formerly City Engineer, 
in a self-acting flushing arrangement, to be at- 
tached to the catch-basin and empty it of all its 
contents once in twenty-four hours, or at other 
stated times. This will soon be put into active 
operation by Mr. Williams, but until fairly tested 

its success can not be assured. 


The materials out of which house drains have 
been constructed have remained the same while 
other improvements were being made, and it was 
not until recently that it was thought that any thing 
else than clay drain tile, with cemented joints, and 
iron or lead pipes, loosely jointed, could be sub- 

Before explaining in detail a system in which 
better material is used and the construction satis- 
factory, the following requirements of a perfect 
system may be enumerated : 

1. There must be an unobstructed and positive 
ventilation of all the pipes and drains within and 
beneath the house. 

2. The ordinary earthenware drains must be 
discarded, since they can not be secured against 
breaking and defective joints. 

3. Perfect joints, and not mere connections, 
must be made between sections of drains and pipes. 

4. The waste-pipes and drains must be one con- 
tinuous system, and made of material that will not 
break, leak, corrode nor obstruct the free passage 
of the miuutest particles which enter them. 

5. Traps must be used that will not permit the 
escape of gas by defect in construction or use ; or, 
better still, they should be entirely discarded. 

A system which seems to meet these demands 
has lately come into use, and fortunately for 

Plate XVIII. 

Complete Ventilation op All Dkains. 


the future health and prosperity of the peo- 
ple, is finding its way into houses just about as 
rapidly as it can be put in. The system was 
devised by Mr. C. W. Durham, a civil and sanitary 
engineer of Chicago, who spent years of study 
and experiment in perfecting it. Where intro- 
duced, houses are absolutely free from sewer-gas, 
and are likely to be so as long as the houses them- 
selves shall stand. Mr. Durham's system has been 
adopted for the entire Town of Pullman, now 
springing into existence a few miles south of Chi- 
cago, in which two thousand houses will be con- 
structed this Summer. 

An important feature of the system is one 
which satisfies the first requirement. A suction 
pipe is built inside the chimney, and extending 
some feet above its top. This is connected with 
the main drain at the bottom, as indicated in Plate 
XVIII. Actual tests, made by the writer, proved 
that in every instance there was a strong down- 
ward current in every water-closet when opened, 
rather than a puff of foul air into the room, as 
there commonly is. 

No earthenware drains are used, and consequent- 
ly there are no cemented joints, in both of which 
there has been found so much objection. The sys- 
tem is complete in itself — soil-pipes being made 
of wrought iron, and the horizontal drains, usually 


put under ground, of cast iron. The former have 
screw, steam-fitting, joints, and the joints of the 
latter are most securely calked with lead. The 
iron pipes are coated internally and externally 
with a rustproof preparation. They are so strong 
that no ordinary weight can break, injure or dis- 
place them. They are not injured by exposure to 
the air, as tile drains or their cemented joints 
are, and consequently they need not be hidden 
away under the ground. Ordinarily, house drains 
consist of two parts ; one rests upon the ground,, 
and the other is attached to the walls of the 
house. Unequal settling is sure to cause a break. 
With all the drains of iron, firmly united, and 
dependent as one piece from the walls of the 
building, or resting upon supports free from the 
building, there can be no breaking. Plate XIX 
illustrates the main drain. The firm and lasting 
character of the pipe and the manner of making 
the connections are indicated. That portion of it 
within the outside wall of the building may be 
laid above ground, where it is always accessible. 
An open man-hole is built over the running trap, 
and the openings seen in it afford access to the 
drain in either direction, should it ever become 
necessary to remove obstructions. The trap holds 
so large an amount of water, it is improbable that 
any pressure from the sewer would " force " it. 

Plate XIX. 

Iron Drain with Steam-fitting Joints. 

Plate XX. 

Drainage Unobstructed by Traps 


This is the only trap in the whole system, except 
under the kitchen sink, wash-basins, and bath- 
tub. These are alwavs ventilated as shown in 
Plate II, and are so small that they can not become 
annoying cesspools. The two openings in the 
running trap are closed with screw plugs, or rub- 
ber-packed flanges, which can be easily removed 
when occasion demands. The screw joint between 
soil-pipe and drain should not be overlooked. 
There is no such thing as separation at this point. 
It is to be understood that this plate, as well as the 
succeeding one, is intended to represent construc- 
tion and not actual proportions. While the sections 
of pipe may be of any length, they are usually 
twelve feet long. The sections of ordinary drain 
tile are about two feet long. 

Plate XX shows the upper portion of the sys- 
tem. This is not to be considered as a separate 
half to be attached to the other in some uncertain 
way, but as a part of it. The soil-pipe is extended 
to the roof in all cases. A brass solder nipple is 
shown at W-P, where the lead waste-pipe of a 
wash-basin or bath-tub is connected with the soil- 
pipe. The opening near the upper end of the 
vertical soil-pipe is to receive the ventilating pipe 
from a trap in a waste - pipe, which would be 
s} T phoned, without such ventilation, by the water 
discharged from the water-closet. The soil-pipes 


are screwed into the drain-pipes, and stand erect 
and rigid without lateral support. The water- 
closets are fastened to special fittings by set screws, 
and are supported directly from the soil-pipe, as 
readily seen, instead of resting on the floor. A 
water-closet some distance awav from the vertical 
pipe might rest upon the floor, but the flexible 
ioint where the branch unites with the main soil- 
pipe admits of settling, without in any way affect- 
ing the security of the connection. 

It is an exceedingly important feature of this 
system that it will admit of the discarding of that 
abomination, the trap, under a water-closet. The 
pipes and drains are so thoroughly ventilated that 
no sewer-gas can remain in them, even supposing 
that they ever contained anything to generate a 
gas. The closet generally used is the Zane, or 
Jennings. Closets of this class are open only 
when the handle is pulled up. They hold a large 
amount of water — three or four gallons. When 
the handle is raised, this water descends in full 
volume through an opening as large as the soil- 
pipe, and with such force that all filth is swept 
along with it to the sewer at once, or, at least, to 
the running trap in the main drain, which, it 
should be remembered, is outside the house. If 
care is exercised in discharging the closet once or 
twice after using, this trap may be completely 

Plate XXL 

"Lead, Iron and Clay." 


flushed. Such suction is created by the water as 
it descends from the closet, that the unpleasant 
odors which invariably arise when using the 
ordinary closet are drawn at once into the soil- 

The principle of the Durham system is shown 
in Plates II and XVIII ; its construction, in Plates 
XIX and XX. To appreciate its superiority, and 
the security which it affords, a representation of 
the ordinary "lead, iron and clay " system is given 
in Plate XXI. This plate is made from a photo- 
graph of what it represents, taken for this work ; 
hence, there is no exaggeration, nor misrepresenta- 
tion, in it. As Plate XXI shows exactly the con- 
struction of house drainage as it is, so its principle 
and results are correctly shown in Plate I, which 
was prepared under the immediate supervision of 
the writer, and represents, faithfully, as already 
stated, what was brought to light in the investi- 
gations reported in this book. 

The proper location and construction of the 
catch-basin, or kitchen grease-basin, should not 
pass unnoticed. It is placed outside the house 
walls, but as near to the kitchen sink and laundry 
tubs as possible, that there may not be a long 
stretch of waste-pipe to become coated internally 
with grease and other waste. It is built up to the 
surface of the ground, and ventilated. The traps 


ill the waste-pipes leading to it are also ventilated, 
etc. All these things are properly shown in Plate 

Mr. Durham began his scientific investigations, 
which have resulted in this perfected invention, in 
1873, and claims to have expended no less than 
$70,000 in experimenting and improving. Mr. 
Durham received his preliminary education at 
Michigan University, under the best scientific 
instructors. It is thus seen that he was 
prepared to investigate upon a scientific basis, 
and that he is not likely to have devised 
some mere make-shift, by which people realiz- 
ing the dangers of sewer-gas may be hum- 
bugged. There is no doubt that his. claim for his 
system is well founded. He says of it : "It may 
be broadly described as a combination of scientific 
design, proper mechanical construction, thorough 
ventilation, and rigid supervision by expert en- 
gineers. In it is substituted for the impracticable, 
and often dangerous, fancies of amateurs, a stand- 
ard design of extreme simplicity. This design is 
constructed with the only proper materials for the 
purpose, viz. : heavy cast and wrought iron pipe. 
They are protected from rust, and put together in 
such a manner that very few buildings will outlive 
the drainage system. There are used the mechan- 


ical refinements of the machine-shop, and the 
highest class of skilled labor, in place of the 
' navvy ' and the half -taught plumber. The meth- 
ods of ventilation really create a circulation of air, 
and are not miserable counterfeits. The control 
of the work, in all its stages, is in the hands of 
civil engineers, where it properly belongs. Work 
is executed only in one way — the best way. The 
quality of the work in a tenement house is, in all 
respects, the same as that put in a State cap- 

Notwithstanding the superiority of this system, 
and the increased cost of skilled labor required in 
constructing it, its expense is not much greater than 
that of the old system. In Chicago, the cost, 
complete, for the drainage within the building, 
including kitchen drainage and grease-trap, ranges 
from $150, for an ordinary building, 25x40 feet in 
size, to $1,000, or $1,500, for a first-class double 
residence, the difference in cost being due to the 
varying amount of pipe required, as well as of 
labor. It can be put into houses already built, as 
well as in those which are new. 

The time is coming when the condition of the 
drainage will determine the character and status — 
in a commercial sense — of every building. With 
the introduction of such a system of house drain- 

Q 11 


age as the one here unhesitatingly commended, 
the long train of diseases occasioned by blood 
poisoning, for which sewer-gas is so largely re- 
sponsible, will disappear, and humanity will be 
delivered from a great peril. 


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